Strip-till corn, which has handily topped straight no-till corn in yield the past few years, often didn't do it in 1999.
The reason: Kinder weather, especially a warmer, drier spring in many areas, kept no-till yields competitive. But fall strip-till is a risk management tool. It beats pure no-till in tough-spring years and equals it in ideal years. And it will equal conventional-till yields anytime.
"In Illinois, '96 and '98 were tough springs, and we got in earlier with strip-till, and just whipped everybody out there on yield," says Wayne Pedersen, University of Illinois crop scientist.
"In 1999, we had a great spring, and there was some really good no-till corn. If we were basing results only on 1999, we'd probably all go back to straight no-till," he says.
In terms of weather variations, that won't happen often, and he thinks that strip-till acreage will continue to grow. "I think in the long term we could see as high as 25-30% of the corn acreage in strip-till."
Tony Vyn, now a cropping systems agronomist at Purdue University, also conducted several years of strip-till research at the University of Guelph in Canada. He echoes Pedersen's observations.
"The bottom line of what I found was that, on medium- and fine-textured soils, fall strip-till results in faster soil warming, generally faster corn emergence, earlier silking and higher yields at least 50% of the time, compared to pure no-till with the same planting dates. If you take advantage of earlier drying with strip-till to plant earlier, that yield advantage would likely climb," he says.
Vyn argues that strip-till on corn can conquer weather and soil challenges, produce yields equal to conventional tillage and benefit both the environment and growers simultaneously.
Praise from the field
One Iowa no-tiller, Roy Bardole of Rippey, is a relatively new convert. He has strip-tilled corn for three years and insists it's the best alternative for him. "Outside of the environment, nothing else really matters except the dollars left over at the end of the year. Strip-till has made us more money than straight no-till every time we've used it."
Ray Rauenhorst, Easton, MN, agrees - even if pure no-till outyielded all systems in his '99 tests. He has extremely variable soils, some normally very tough on no-till corn. Both Bardole and Rauenhorst are cooperators in Monsanto's Centers of Excellence tillage system research.
"For southern Minnesota and my soils," Rauenhorst says, "I definitely feel fall strip-till for corn is the way to go because it has proved itself for me."
Both Rauenhorst and Bardole have been able to get their strips made in the fall, but both are experimenting with spring strip-till as a backup in a bad fall. "In farming, you always need a backup system," Bardole insists.