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Strip-till can be done either in the spring, just ahead of planting, or in the fall following harvest. However, equipment, management style and weather conditions can affect which makes the most sense for growers. The season you create the strip, also known as a berm, determines the type of strip you want to achieve. 

Key Characteristics of Different Strip-Till Options

When a strip is created in the spring, you will be planting directly into a conventional seedbed. Therefore, in any given 3-foot area, the strip should not have any clods larger than four inches in size and should have fewer than five clods that are larger than two inches. The berm height will be between one and two inches tall. 

A strip that is created in the fall needs to be approximately three inches in height, because it will mellow down over the winter. It should have no clods that are greater than four inches in size and just five to ten clods that are two to four inches in size (again, in a three-foot area). The ideal width of the strip is between eight and ten inches. 

What to Consider When Choosing Between Spring and Fall Strip-Till

 

Spring Berm

  • Less chance for erosion of the strips.
  • Allows more flexibility in deciding on crop and fertilizer programs.
  • Usually done with machines that do not have a shank and utilize a coulter system, which  therefore require less horsepower.
  • If fertilizer is applied, there is less time for nutrient loss (with the exception of anhydrous, which should be applied two to four weeks prior to prevent it from burning the roots of the seed).
  • Shank systems in heavy soils are not desirable, due to potentially creating a slot in the soil.
  • Always good to have as an option if fall strip-till cannot be completed due to weather.

Fall Berm

  • Saves time in the spring.
  • May need to freshen in the spring, particularly if erosion occurs in the strip.
  • Less risk around needing to get strips built in wet spring conditions and avoids running heavy fertilizer loads on spring soils, if fertilizer is applied.
  • Matches up well with anhydrous ammonia applications.
  • When performed shortly after a cover crop emerges, fall strip tillage can eliminate the cover crop in the strip, allowing an open row for spring cash crop planting.

In either application, it’s important to have a knife and tape measure handy in the cab. Take measurements of your strip, checking the size of clods along with the width and height of the berm, to ensure the machine is set correctly and you are producing the ideal strip for your operation.

 

Photo credit: Soil Warrior

Jim Isermann
Jim Isermann
Jim Isermann is a Field Manager for Soil Health Partnership, covering northern Illinois and Wisconsin.