Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Benefits of Strip Tillage

If someone were to show you a soil tillage method that could not only save you time and money, but also protect the integrity of your land, would you consider giving it a try? In the eyes of many soil conservationists and agricultural professionals, a relatively new method could be the answer to successful planting with minimal soil disturbance.

The practice is strip tillage, a system that lies halfway between full- and no-till methods, and many who have tried it have never looked back. The use of strip till tools and machinery offers the following benefits:

•    Improving soil health
•    Enhancing moisture retention
•    Keeping carbon residue safely buried
•    Encouraging seed-to-soil contact
•    Reducing erosion
•    Protecting young plants from wind and drought

In addition, the greater crop yields that can result will have a positive effect on the bottom line of any farming operation. To get an idea of how the method works, it helps to understand the operation of its different parts.

Coulter Blades

Normally of the fluted variety, coulter blades do the heavy work of cutting through crop residue and into the earth's crust. The size of the coulter has a direct impact on the ease with which it does this. In heavy conditions, the larger coulters perform the best.

When working with soil that's rocky or uneven, a flexible mounting of these blades is imperative to permit easy movement over the stones. Under such conditions, a parallel linkage system will also assist in enabling more efficient operation.

Row Cleaners

The job done by the row cleaners will vary according to their placement on the equipment. When positioned in front of the coulter blades, they perform a preliminary clearance of crop residue, enabling the blades to penetrate the soil with greater ease. When alternatively mounted behind the coulters, they clean the rows by removing leftover detritus.

Tillage Shanks and Sweeps

While functioning mainly to loosen the soil within the strip, most tillage shanks today also come equipped with injection tubes that permit the simultaneous application of soil enhancements to the tilled row. The best models will handle liquid, dry or gaseous forms of these materials. The shanks combine with cultivator sweeps to loosen the soil and prepare for planting. 

Berm-Building Discs

Located 6 to 8 inches behind and to each side of the tillage shank, berm-building discs perform the task of sculpting the soil in the plowed strip. Depending on their angle of adjustment, they can either introduce a depression to encourage moisture buildup or build a mound to facilitate water runoff.

Conditioning Baskets or Packing Wheels

From their position behind the shanks, conditioning baskets or packing wheels break up any remaining soil clods and put a smooth finish on the surface. Although particularly important in the spring, their use is optional in the fall, since the winter weather that's sure to follow will do the job just as well.

Combination Equipment

Strip-tillage equipment that consists of a combination seed planter, fertilizer spreader and chemical sprayer will allow a single-pass performance of all operations in conjunction with the tilling and seedbed preparation.

GPS-Guided Tractors

For anyone engaging in strip tillage methods, the success of ensuing seeding and spraying operations relies entirely upon an accurate and even spacing of the strips. Every subsequent pass must be able to duplicate the original exactly. A mismatch of even a few inches could cause misalignment and incorrect seeding and planting.

This vital concern calls for precise guidance of the tillage equipment. Any discrepancy between seed placement and prior fertilizer application can diminish yields by as much as 30 percent. While one method of ensuring accuracy entails the use of row markers, a more exact practice employs GPS positioning to guarantee that successive passes will hit the mark. It’s also importance to have properly aligned disc blades and disc openers that can plant with precise accuracy to ensure the best results.

A Method Whose Time Has Come?

Although strip tillage remains a relative newcomer to the soil management scene, many will tell you that nothing matches its ability to prepare the perfect seedbed while cutting labor and equipment requirements nearly in half. In the end, however, its ability to conserve soil while increasing production could be the biggest selling point of all.


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