Growers are learning there’s no one best way to strip-till. “Strip-tillage means different things to different people,” points out Mark Hanna, Extension ag engineer at Iowa State University (ISU). “It’s attractive to a lot of farmers for various reasons.”

In its early days, strip-till equipment was patterned after anhydrous-ammonia applicators, but has evolved to more iron, heavier toolbars and often, down-pressure springs he says.

“While strip-till is not a new practice,” says Liz Stahl, Extension educator, University of Minnesota, “It brings together the best of both worlds: the benefits of tillage in the crop row and the benefits of reduced tillage between crop rows.”

Its benefits include warmer soil for earlier planting, fuel and labor savings; nutrients placed where they’re needed; residue management; and often, higher yields.

In the days of the moldboard plow, a straight furrow was a badge of honor among neighbors. Today’s strip-tillers are no exception. With attachments to place nutrients near the seed row, many growers are now switching to GPS auto-steer so planters match previously laid A-B lines and achieve maximize yields from reduced fertilizer input.

“Previously we did not have RTK (real-time kinematic) on our planter tractor,” says Tom Muller, Windom, MN, who’s been strip-tilling corn since 1994. “Since we bought it, it’s exceeded our expectations. It even worked on side hills, compensating enough to keep the planter dead on.”

Muller, who farms with his brother, plants up to 2,800 acres in a 50-50 corn and bean rotation. Since 2004, he’s contracted with his local co-op to install strips in the fall with a 16-row custom machine. Muller uses urea in his strips instead of anhydrous ammonia to reduce cost. He places needed nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, K) in the strip in the fall about 8 in. deep. “It’s important to get that fertilizer in,” he adds.

Overall, he sees strip-till as a residue-management system for the cool black soils in southwestern Minnesota. “We need that black strip to warm up for planting and germination.”

Dick Wolkowski, Extension soil scientist, University of Wisconsin, notes one of the benefits of strip-till is more efficient use of costly nutrients, but soil tests are as important as with other tillage approaches.

“In Wisconsin there’s not as much deep banding of fertilizer,” he says. “A lot of our soils are testing high in P because we have a significant manure history in a lot of fields.” He notes the statewide P average is just over 50 ppm.

Wolkowski urges growers to follow soil tests and match applications to equipment setup and planting. Wisconsin research finds that special attention should be paid to K management in no-till and strip-till.

In one heavy 2008 rainfall, where 15-18 in. fell in eight days, he says reduced tillage saved a lot of soil.

 “Our biggest benefit with strip-till is labor savings,” says Ken Herschleb, Arlington, WI. “We’re running about 2,000 acres with two people, feeding cattle and everything. Just strip and plant…that’s it.”