Another advantage to spring strip-till, Sladek adds, is the mellow, aerated seedbed from spring strips. “You avoid the smearing you can get from a soil finisher or field cultivator used in the spring when it’s too wet. That smearing can limit root growth for the rest of the season,” he says.

Spring strip-till reduces soil erosion because the strips aren’t subjected to fall, winter and early spring precipitation, Sladek adds. These agronomic and conservation benefits far outweigh the more demanding spring logistics – more field passes, requiring skilled operators, plus hauling fertilizer to tend the planter and strip-till bars, he says. “But, from our standpoint, spring strip-till is the best agronomically.”

Paul Musick, Camp Point, Ill., has always built his strips in the spring. “It gives you a much better seedbed, and you avoid losing nitrogen over the winter,” he says.

However, Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Mahdi Al-Kaisi challenges that logic: Nitrogen can be lost in both spring and fall strip-till, he says. “In the fall, there’s risk of nitrogen loss, especially if soil temperature is above 50° F and enough time passes before planting to allow fall-applied nitrogen to be lost. In spring strip-tillage, wet conditions create large clods and large spaces between soil clods that can allow nitrogen to escape as well,” he says.

Chris Bowman, DeWitt, Iowa, does both spring and fall strip-till. Agronomically, he prefers placing nutrients in a spring strip. “Logistically, fall is much better – just pull in and plant,” he says.

 “I like a shank machine to place nutrients deeper than a coulter-only unit. This helps reduce nutrient stratification issues and increases crop safety as the corn seedlings are placed over nutrients, but not directly in them. Shortly after emergence, roots find the banded fertilizer, and crop and root growth explodes. I would prefer to have my strips in place in fall, but wait until spring on highly erodible land to reduce the time soil is exposed to erosion potential. My strips are fairly clear of residue, which is great for crop growth but can lead to increased risk of washing out strip in heavy rains. The nice thing is more residue is on the surface strip-tilling over conventional tillage, reducing total erosion potential, whether done in fall or spring,” Bowman says. “I have seen an explosion in earthworm activity in my fields and believe overall soil health has improved since adopting strip-tillage.”

Scott Brown, Carthage, Ill., used spring strip-till this year because his ground “is not good for any fall deep tillage without a cover crop. We are new to this, so we will see,” he says.

Nick Hermanson, Des Moines, splits the difference, and makes two passes: A deep pass in the fall to mix in turkey manure, “then a shallow spring pass to freshen the strip, smooth things out and apply 32% nitrogen,” he says.