I farm in partnership with my brother Lee. We raise Durum wheat, Hard Red Spring wheat, corn, Sunflowers, Pinto beans, Cranbe and Barley. In 1994 we purchased an additional farm. For 1995 crop year we have rented additional land. Total acreage will exceed 4000 in 1995.
We have generally followed conventional farming practices but have been intrigued by limited tillage practices that conserve moisture. We have also tried to do as many operations as possible with each pass over the field. We have gotten proficient at chemical fallow management and have used this practice to perform some no till or single pass seeding for the past five years. Seeding wheat into chemical fallow sunflower residue, we though it would be advantages to do the reverse seed sunflowers into wheat stubble and thus began to look for assistance in performing this practice.
I attended Ray Rawson’s presentation at the Northern Farm Show in Minneapolis, Minn. and learned about the strip tillage practice. I also ordered a video and shared it with my local Soil Conservation District board and others. NDSU Extension Agronomist, Terry Gregoire also has been helpful in providing information and support for this project.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The main barriers to implementing strip tillage is a lack of adequate equipment to perform the job correctly. What I thought would work sufficiently proved to be unacceptable (tillage via a cultivator or chisel plow). I have since purchased coulters and am still experimenting to get the right type and combination for my soils and residue amounts.
In the fall of 1993 I applied Sonalan granules to 46 acres of a 110 acre field. These 46 acres was my designated strip till plot with the balance of the field designated as the conventional till portion. I harrowed the granules into the residue with a Herman super weeder that I have specially modified to operate in high residue conditions. I cut the S tines in half, welded rod on the upper half and rotated and remounted this half at a 90 degree placement to the original. Interesting, December of 1994 scientific evidence was revealed that fall application of Sonalan in residue is an acceptable practice. I then tried to make some tillage strips on the 46 acre plot. After several tries I was somewhat successful.
In the spring of 1994 I found that trying to plant and follow these tilled strips was near impossible. My crop consultant recommended I spray the strip till portion of the field with a pint of Round-up and a pint of 2 4-D herbicide. This is half of the labeled rate. This was a new practice to me but I found it to work very well. I plan to use this practice often to control/suppress Canada Thistle, perennial sow thistle and other tough annual and perennial weeds prior to planting row crops.
I waited three days and then harrowed the field. I found that planting conditions were such that we could continue seeding from conventional to the strip till with out any planter modifications. The planter monitor indicated a higher population on the strip till plot than conventional. Perhaps this is because of the firmer ground on the strip till plots which caused less wheel slippage. We also had to work the conventional plot an extra time just to dry it out enough to plant on it and avoid mud sticking problems. We had it prepared and then it rained and was threatening rain again. Mud was not a problem in the strip till plot.
We did discover that soil temperature were approximately five degrees cooler in the strip till plot than the conventional. Perhaps this difference could be diminished with the use of trash removal attachments on the planter in combination with coulter applications for the tilled strip preparation.
We also noted that in midsummer when the sunflowers were about two and a half feet tall that a moisture probe would go all the way down in the strip till plot. In the conventional plot it would go within a foot of the handle. This indicated less soil profile moisture in the conventional plot.
We also observed some late blooming flowers in the strip till plot in September. This would indicate to me a need to improve soil moisture to seed contact as it appears not all the seeds germinated at planting time. I believe timely germination could be achieved with coulters tilling the strip. We are now in that process of mounting the coulters that I purchased this summer on a tool bar for use in 1995.
We also observed, and have attempted to point out with the ASCS slide/picture, the effects of the heavy rain in 1994. Runoff seemed to be more contained on the strip till plot whereas the conventional endured more crop damage from pond of water. Soil moisture management to increase crop production appears to have great potential. This project experience made me much more aware of that potential.
We had difficulty in side banding nitrogen needs on the strip tillage plot. The applicator we devised did not seal properly on all of the knives. This experience has proven to me that sealing attachments are necessary to side band properly. We hope to make that improvement in 1995. Not all of the strip till plot received adequate nitrogen because of this sealing problem.
I have enclosed the harvest results. They demonstrate a significant yield advantage to the strip till crop methods. These results were unexpected to me and were an extreme surprise to my brother. The non-traditional planting procedure, difficulty in proper fertilization, and the appearance of the crop not being black between the row through out the season left a great deal of skepticism as to production performance.
In 1995 we hope to find the right coulter combination to achieve superior soil moisture to seed contact. We would also hope to make improvements in side banding methods of fertilizer.
Much knowledge was gained from this project specifically non-traditional farming methods. New methods of weed control using less than labeled rates. New ways of chemical application which permit high residue levels to enhance soil moisture management. Specific machinery management to perform strip till cropping practices. Most of all ways to enhance yield, income, and reduce runoff by modifying existing cropping practice and changing others.
Preliminary indications are good that the barrier to the strip till practices have been overcome. Through further trials in 1995 it is hoped that a confident yes is that answer to the barriers being over come question.
I would tell other producers that coulters are needed to perform the tillage of a strip till practice. Also that a superior marker system is needed if multiple passes are used to plant the crop. If fertilization via side banding is preferred then some type of converting tool is needed. Weed control options could be improved and expanded for sunflowers but are not a complete barrier to perform strip till cropping methods.
In Ramsey County nearly 90 thousand to 130 thousand acres of row crops have been seeded with near 250 thousand in the Devils Lake Basin drainage system. If we assume two inches of moisture can be saved with the strip tillage practice at a 65 percent participation level of farmers, then 27 thousand acre feet of water can be transferred into crop production with this cropping practice change. To visualize this amount of water, I have discovered that 27,000 acre feet is approximately 1.5 times the water capacity of the lake adjacent to my farm.
The benefits of flood prevention coupled with the advantages of converting this amount of soil moisture to crop production creates a very substantial economic impact. As an example, it is known that one inch of soil moisture is equal to five additional bushels of wheat production. Using this analogy and assuming wheat production and row crop production income are similar, ten bushels additional production on 250 thousand acres is a total of two and a half million bushels. The ten year average price for durum wheat, a popular class of wheat in that area that is used for pasta is $3.60 per bushel. Thus a 5.6 million dollar positive impact on the basin area and a 56 million dollar positive state economic impact could be realized from this cropping practice change.
I have completed an interview for Successful Farmer magazine on the strip till cropping practice. I also visited with my local Soil Conservation District about the possibilities of expanding this practice in the Devils Lake basin. I wrote a brief description of the practice which was included in the district newsletter. This prompted the Devils Lake Daily Journal to do a story on the practice. The Peddler, a ten county weekly, also carried the story. There are approximately six hundred farmers in Ramsey County. State-wide there are 31,000 farmers in 52 counties.
At this time, two Ramsey County farmers have indicated a very strong desire to experiment with the strip tillage practice in 1995.