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Published June 2, 2006 | By Cindy Snyder

 

WENDELL, Idaho — Increasing profitability on a farm these days comes down to two approaches: reduce input costs or increase yields. Strip tillage may offer southern Idaho corn growers an opportunity to put both approaches to work simultaneously.

 

Strip till is gaining acceptance in the Midwest as well as eastern Colorado, western Kansas and the Texas Panhandle. There is even some strip tillage being used in the Columbia Basin. But the practice hasn’t gained a toehold amongst silage corn growers in the Magic Valley.

 

That may be about to change. One equipment manufacturer has brought its strip till implement to the Wendell area to see how it handles triticale stubble. Triticale’s massive root system has proved too tough for other conservation tillage implements.

 

Dave Sass, agronomist with Pioneer International in Jerome, is excited about the potential of strip tillage in southern Idaho. Traditional silage corn growers are disking twice, then planting and dammer diking fields after harvesting the triticale in the spring. Strip tillage — where a shank cuts through the root mass to open a narrow seed bed — eliminates the two disk passes and, except for growers using lots of lagoon water, the need to dammer dike. Growers can even pull a planter behind the implement making planting a one-pass operation.

 

While fewer trips across the field should translate into fuel savings, Sass sees another benefit — getting the corn crop in the ground faster.

 

Delaying planting by even just a few days can cost growers in terms of yield. In the Magic Valley, producers can expect to lose a half bushel of potential yield each day planting is delayed past May 10. After May 20, the yield loss jumps to a bushel a day and after May 31 the loss is 1.5 bushel per day.

 

“This lets the crop get planted a few days earlier,” Sass said. “That should increase corn yields.”

 

Compaction is a problem corn growers face. Every ton of force that runs over wet soil can drive compaction down an inch. That means an 18-wheeler filled with silage can drive the compaction 8 to 10-1/2 inches deep, said Mike Petersen, precision tillage agronomist for Orthman Agricultural. The central Nebraska manufacturer has been building strip till equipment for six years.

 

While corn roots can grow up to 80 inches deep, the roots are essentially lazy and stop growing once a compacted layer is reached. If that layer is 10 inches below the soil surface, growers have a real problem in late summer.

 

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