Wagner brothers sold on strip till

The Iowa Learning Farms program works with many farmers across the state who are demonstrating conservation farming practices while remaining profitable. Our farmers help ILF by sharing their experiences with others in order to help build a Culture of Conservation.

They host field days, speak at workshops, or chat one-on-one with other farmers who are interested in making changes on their own farms. Farmer partner Tom Wagner shares details of his strip-tillage success with us.

Tom Wagner and his brother, Jim, farm near Primghar in O’Brien County. They formerly used multiple full-width tillage passes before planting. Today, they successfully no-till plant soybeans into standing cornstalks and strip till the row area into which corn is planted. All their corn is planted in a corn-soybean rotation.

The Wagners had shared tillage operations with a neighbor who retired after the 2005 harvest. At that time, the brothers opted to change their crop management system rather than upgrade their line of full-width tillage equipment. They began by leasing a strip-tillage bar from their local ag supplier; in 2010 they purchased a 12-row strip-tillage bar that has residue managers followed with wavy coulter, mole knife and wavy coulter sealers/berm builders.

“It takes a little more attention to detail, but our stand establishment has been comparable to conventional-till,” says Tom, adding they have better yields in dry years.

Minimizing the hindering effect that corn residue has on soybean emergence starts with harvest of the previous year’s corn crop.

To limit the matted corn residue at planting, the Wagners use a knife-roll-equipped corn head on their combine, leaving harvested cornstalks as tall as possible and evenly distributing the residue.

After bean harvest they variable-rate broadcast a two-year rate of phosphorus, potash fertilizer and lime before strip tilling. Fields have been grid-sampled since the mid-’90s. Fall strip tillage includes variable-rate-applied anhydrous ammonia in management zones. An additional 30 to 40 units of nitrogen is spring-applied as liquid UAN with preemerge corn herbicides.

Tom and Jim have used a 30-inch planter equipped with pneumatic down pressure and one curve-tine spiked closing wheel per row. Planter row units have rippled coulter/residue manager combo units; the coulters are removed to plant corn. For 2012 they will switch to a similarly equipped split-row planter, which features the coulter/residue manager combo units on the front 12 rows and rippled coulters alone on the back 12 rows.

Other advantages they like

Soybean weed management includes two glyphosate applications (early post-emerge and early July timing). For 2012 the Wagners may include a residual herbicide, or one with a different mode of action, to compliment the glyphosate. Corn weed management includes preemerge residual herbicides with various modes of action, followed by glyphosate or glufosinate paired with Callisto.

The Wagners have not experienced increased Goss’s wilt or other corn disease pressure with their higher surface residue system. Tom believes the tilled strip they plant into is an advantage for corn disease management and that strip tilling before soybean planting is not necessary on their Galva-Primghar soil types. They prefer fall strip tilling, but had good results when weather delayed strip tillage to spring.

“We like this system for many reasons: time savings, fuel savings, equipment cost per acre, increased soil tilth and soil conservation, while we maintain top-end yields,” says Tom. He also serves as an O’Brien County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner.

“We look at our soil resource as something to preserve today and for future generations,” he adds. “Jim and I believe no-till and strip till is our way of making that happen. Transitioning from full-width tillage hasn’t always been easy, but we feel it’s worth it.”

Lundvall is field coordinator for ILF.

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.