When you talk to Todd Martin about the benefits of strip-till, you almost see him light up. “I'm always trying to maximize efficiency and yield with the least amount of input cost that I can,” says Martin, who farms at Doon, in northwest Iowa.
“I went to a spring strip-till program to reduce trips over the field, plus I like only tilling a small part of the field. It just makes good agronomic sense to put the nutrients where the roots of the plant can utilize them the most efficiently,” Martin says.
That's why he decided to build his own shop-built strip-till tool. He used advice and help from strip-till and planter expert Kevin Kimberly. So now with two years under his belt, he's ready to pull it back into his fields this spring.
He started with a Case-IH model 800 planter frame, then reinforced it with three 5-in. x 7-in. bars, each 22 ft. long. To that, he added a row of triple coulters, then a knife followed by closing coulters. After some trial runs he decided the triple coulters were too much for the 22-in. rows, and the trash wheels were needed out front to clear the residue especially in corn on corn. The final prototype — 22 ft. wide for a 12-row, 22-in. tool — consists of Yetter floating Shark Tooth trash wheels followed by a single coulter, knife and closing coulters.
Martin says he wanted to stick with 22-in. rows to match his equipment. “The real issue was how to strip-till on narrow rows when most equipment manufacturers don't know how to handle that. If I'd have gone to 30s, it would have been easy to build,” he says.
“Because of my narrow row width, I couldn't run the coulters side-by-side or residue would plug it up. I had to offset them,” he says. So, along with help from Yetter Manufacturing, he chose to mount 12 Yetter Shark Tooth floating trash wheels in the front with the coulters behind.
“I put trash whippers up front to move the residue first so the strip is clear,” he says. “With just a coulter in the front, it threw too much loose dirt so that the trash wheels would move it out of the strip, and you don't want that.”
Martin says he designed the box-format frame so that it had “strength and a lot of flexibility to move things around if needed.”
Total cost for the strip-tiller, including the monitor controller, ran about $20,000. That even includes the used 800-gal. Bestway sprayer tank (for N) that's mounted directly in front of the tool and the two 200-gal. tanks (for P and K) on top of the tool. If he'd have bought it new, Martin thinks it would have cost him $50,000-60,000.
With strip-till, it's critical to be extremely straight and precise as you're laying the strips for the planter, Martin says. That little obstacle is going to be minimized this spring, though, when he moves to an auto-steer system.