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Strip-Till Series: Pros and Cons

Part 1 of 3

Photo courtesy of Jake Munroe, Soil Fertility Specialist for OMAFRA

What does it look like?

Strip-till is a minimum tillage approach that combines conventional and no-till systems, you get the agronomic benefit of tillage and environmental and economic benefits of no-till. Only 6-12 inches of soil (mostly 10"), where the seed and fertilizer will be placed, is disturbed, while the rest of the 30 inch row width is left untouched. Small berms of looser soils are created and the goal is to keep soil in those strips. Strip-tillage can be done in the fall, after harvest, or in the spring, spring before planting. Some people do both, it depends largely on your soil, but generally, this approach means less tillage and potentially fertilizer application passes.

While there are several different companies that produce strip-till equipment (Soil Warrior, Kuhn, Dawn, etc...), most will have similar features. These include coulter blades and/or tillage shanks, row cleaners, berm-building disks and packing wheels or conditioning baskets. There are also tubes that deliver fertilizer into the tilled strips. This optimal fertilizer placement is one of the biggest benefits of the strip-till system. Fertilizer is either carried by a mounted box or by pulling a cart.

Enviromental Benefits

Less mechanical soil breakage and compaction events

- Reduced soil degradation

Maintaining soil cover and roots in the ground

- Reduced erosion and runoff

- Reduced soil compaction

- Increased SOM and C sequenstration

- Increased soil life

- Increased soil structure

- Improved equipment carrying capability

Fertilizer placed below the soil surface and in a concentrated area

- Less loss to volatilization and leaching

Agronomic Benefits

Specialized equipment

- Good residue management

- Seedbed preparation

- Accurate fertilizer placement (vs no-till and conventional)

- More even emergence and stand (vs no-till)

Improved soil structure

- Improved soil moisture conservation

Optimal fertilizer placement

- Improved fertilizer use efficiency

Economic Benefits

Less trips across the field

- Less overhead costs (labour, fuel, machine hours)

- More time for other activities and flexibility in when you can do tillage.

Improved fertilizer use efficiency

- Better ROI

Costs and Negatives

- Potential for more perennial weeds means a heavier reliance on herbicides and/or the use of cover crops for weed control

- Large upfront investments in machinery: these can potentially be avoided if you are due for some new equipment anyways, contracting the stip-till work is also and option.

- Need a significant horse-power tractor to run a stip-till with fertilizer setup

Would this work for me?

The transition to strip-till makes the most sense at a time when you are needing to upgrade your tillage equipment. It's still a big investment but if you are already needing to turnover equipment, it's worth considering.

Strip-till works on most soil types. If you have erosion or soil structure problems, and no-till isn't an option for you, this could be a strong alternative. If you're trying to maximize your fertilizer use efficiency, this is a great approach!

For more information

Watch the 3-part Stip-Till Speakers Series by Food and Farm Care Ontario

Alyssa Gingras

February 23, 2021

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