Strip Cropping in a Four-Crop Rotation

Final Report for FNC94-063

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1994: $3,428.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $3,962.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


[Editor's Note: Larry Kennel passed away on June 18, 2002. He was a 2001 recipient of the R.J. Vollmer Sustainable Agriculture Farmer Award (see:, and a long time member of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, C-2000 Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Committee. A summary of Larry Kennel's 1994 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project was published in "Planning For Whole Farm Management: Lessons From Midwest Farmers," a publication of The Minnesota Project and The Great Lakes Whole Farm Planning Network. (To view the summary see page 21 of the publication at:]

The 270-acre farm (known as the Blue Heron Farm) has been in sustainable and organic operation for two years and was certified organic this year (1994). No fertilizers or chemicals have been used since June of 1991. The farming practice is a four crop rotation (alfalfa, corn, soybean, wheat). This farm has marginal soil types (sand and clay) and we hope to reduce crop stress through the use of strip farming.

The goal was to adapt a tillage system to farm in 30 ft. strips with a four crop rotation without chemicals or fertilizers.

Process: In order to make the sustainable and organic operation work, we felt we could eliminate the stress on the crop by farming in 30 ft. strips to allow more sunlight and air to the corn and bean plants. If we would plant corn and beans in strips, the corn would shade the beans and restrict yields. We knew from previous studies corn planted in 30 ft. strips would yield about 15% more. We divided the farm into two halves, one half stripped with wheat and corn and the other half stripped with alfalfa and soybeans.

When the wheat was mature, the corn was the same height so it didn’t shade the wheat. The alfalfa never outgrows the beans so the beans were never shaded. Next year the corn and wheat will be planted where the alfalfa and beans were and the beans and alfalfa will be planted where the corn and wheat was.

We used a 15 ft. power-take-off driven rotary tiller to plant corn and beans and a no-till drill to plant alfalfa, wheat, and rye. The old alfalfa was rotary tilled in the spring as early as the ground could be worked. This allowed the soil to warm up and the first crop of weeds to germinate. Later (May 10) we tilled the ground to kill the weeds and then planted the corn. We rotary hoed the corn four days after planting then again eight days after. This allowed the corn to grow ahead of the weeds. We cultivated the corn two times after that.

The wheat was planted last fall with a no-till drill and the corn was planted in alternating strips with the wheat. The new strips of alfalfa were planted in early April with a no-till drill in alternating strips with rye. The rye was rotary tilled May 1, and the beans were planted in alternating strips where the rye was.

Joan and Bob Erickson of the Sun Foundation own Blue Heron Farm, which is farmed by Larry (Joe), Jeff, and Tim Kennel of LTS Farms who use sustainable and organic practices. Joan and Bob Erickson provided the meeting facility (Sun Foundation Center) to hold the two meetings. They also did the advertising which they were reimbursed for. Jerry Crump from FBFM provided the financial comparisons used at the second meeting.

The results were much better than expected. Weed control in corn was outstanding and very good in soybeans with a few velvet leaf coming through late in the season. The advantage to this program is reduced investment risk with better than average returns. We are planning on expanding our complete farming operation into an organic and sustainable program. We plan to experiment with different rotations and then evaluate the results. Some will be three crop rotations and then evaluate the results. Some will be three crop rotations and some will be alfalfa, corn, bean, bean, back to alfalfa. We feel this may offer the best profit because of the high premiums on beans.

See enclosed sheets for comparison of results for Blue Heron Farm and other central Illinois farms with similar soil types. [Editor’s Note: For a copy of the comparison results, contact the NCR-SARE office at: [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342.]

The following is an excerpt from the “Sun Foundation Journal, Vol X, Number 1, pg. 4:
“The farm operators Jeff & Larry Kennel have seen direct results from farming the ground [organically] during the past several years. ‘When you can make money and be good stewards of the land, it is a win-win situation,’ said Jeff Kennel. The farm will be certified organic this year [1994], which will allow bonuses, $6 on beans, $.75 on corn, come harvest time. The farm is in an alfalfa, corn, soybean, and wheat rotation.

“There will be a follow up meeting Saturday, November 19th [1994], 9-11 am, at the Sun Foundation Center. At the second meeting, a Pioneer FBFM associate will compare and verify the results with the averages of other farms in the area with the same soil ratings using conventional practices.”

On Thursday September 8, 1994, “The Peoria Journal Star”, the largest newspaper distributed in the central Illinois area, published an article about the strip farming tour by Elaine Hopkins, titled “Chemical-free crops taste like money.” [Editor’s note: To view a copy of the article, visit the archives at The Peoria Journal Star website:]

The “Sun Foundation Journal” with circulation of 30,000 published an announcement about the field day (Vol X, Number 1, pg 4), and the Fall 1994 “Activator Newsletter” sent out by the Woodford County Soil and Water Conservation District also announced the farm tour.

Sustainable Agriculture Strip Farming Tour Fliers were distributed around Woodford and Marshall Counties. The “Agri News” which is distributed throughout Illinois ran the article on our farming operation as well.

At the first meeting we explained our operation and what we were trying to achieve. We had 23 people in attendance. At the second meeting we had 33 people in attendance when we explained the results. Enclosed you will find three VCR tapes, one showing the farming strips the other two showing the first and second meetings. [Editor’s Note: If you would like to view the tapes, please contact the NCR-SARE office at: [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342.]

Better communications would help. We pushed to get the project done thinking it was for 1994.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.