Livingston County farmers Matt Ifft, Tim McGreal and John Traub

Livingston County farmers Matt Ifft, Tim McGreal and John Traub share their experiences with strip tillage at the Vermilion Headwaters field day.

CHATSWORTH, Ill. — When Irv Wilken started making plans to retire from the family farm in 2014, there were some things that were still on his “what’s next” list to suggest to his son, John. One of those was strip tillage.

“We were using no-till on highly erodible ground. Strip till looked like a good practice,” he said.

John agreed and began experimenting. He’s been talking to other farmers who have been strip tilling for 25 years and who have evolved their practices as research and new precision tools have become available.

The Wilkens hosted the annual Vermilion Headwaters field day at their farm near Chatsworth July 26. The event featured a panel of farmers with strip till experience who led other attendees in a discussion about the practice.

There are huge differences between fall or spring operation, among crop rotations, for different slopes and soil types, for different rainfall amounts, and a host of other variables, according to the University of Nebraska CropWatch website.

Likewise there are differences on what the strip-till equipment looks like, how it handles the residue, how much tillage it does, and how much it firms the soil in the strips.

About one-third of the farmers said they had experience with strip tillage — disturbing only the portion of the soil that is to contain the seed row.

Several of the farmers said they started using the practice more than two decades ago on ground that has high clay content. Tim McGreal, a Chatsworth farmer, has further developed the strip tilling practice that his father initiated in the 1980s. He favors fall strips on his land with high clay content.

“I believe it’s the only way to grow corn on corn,” he said.

Matt Ifft said strip tillage has been part of their farming practice on high clay content soil for about 25 years, and it continues to evolve as new tools are developed.

John Traub started strip tillage 20 years ago with an anhydrous tool bar and a Kinze marker and has followed the evolution of equipment to improve the practice on his farm.

“We still do some tillage where we use manure or heavy lime,” he said. Otherwise, they use strip tillage on their corn acreage and are pleased with the “consistent seed bed.”

He said his expenses are down, and his yields are above average with his strip till practices.

McGreal said the biggest mistake he’s made is not getting the strip done in the fall. Come spring, he knew why he had to fit the work into his busy fall schedule, even if it was difficult.

Traub agrees, recalling 2009 when he was listening to Christmas music in the combine. In that late harvest season, he only got 25 percent of his strips made. In 2010, he did spring strips. He tried that practice again for 2011 and 2012 before he switched back to fall strips. Fall timing and the results work better in his system.

They all agreed it takes good management to strip till, but it has been worth their while over the long run.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.