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Tale of Two Tillage Systems

Strip-till and no-till can offer benefits; find out if they’re right for your farm

Ten years ago, north-central Iowa farmer Dave Gerber did what few dare—he switched all of his 1,100 acres from conventional tillage to strip-till in just one season. He now spends 60% less on diesel fuel, 20% less on fertilizer and estimates 60% slower depreciation on his equipment. 

“In conventional tillage, my yields were leveling off in both corn and soybeans, and I wanted to see improvement,” Gerber says. “For the first seven years I just used a single disc to cut a hole in the ground, it was basically no-till, but in the past three years I bought a machine that tills 8″ strips.”

Now he strip-tills half his ground and no-tills the other half in sync with his corn/soybean rotation. While he says there’s a learning curve, he also says money saved outweighs setbacks.

Reducing tillage can be a sizeable change for your farm. Consider the benefits as well as any potential disadvantages before getting started. 

New to reduced tillage systems, Iowa corn farmer Bruce Kent has kept an eye on Gerber’s fields and tillage for the past 10 years. When challenged to try to reduce tillage on his own farm, Kent turned to Gerber. 

“We tried no-till two years ago and saw a big enough yield loss I wanted to find another system,” Kent says. “This last year we called our neighbor [Gerber] and experimented with strip-till. He strip-tilled about 5% of our acres.”

Changing tillage can save money but often requires changes in management. No-till in cold, wet Iowa soil meant Kent either couldn’t plant as early as he wanted or would plant early and see seedlings suffer. In addition, he saw a yield drop. Now he says he’s found the best of conventional tillage and no-till in a…

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