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Right equipment key to reducing tillage

Yetter Manufacturing Yetter planter
RIGHT EQUIPMENT: The Langseth family’s six-piece setup helps them use less tillage on their farm while still planting on time.
For Mike and Paul Langseth, a no-till and strip-till combo helps eliminate wind erosion.

The Red River Valley is a tough place for farmers to reduce tillage. But Mike and Paul Langseth have done it successfully.

“It’s a matter of having the right equipment setup,” says Mike, who farms with his father, Paul, near Barney, N.D., in Richland County.

Growing corn and soybeans, they no-till soybeans into corn stubble and make only one pass with a strip freshener to prepare fields for planting corn.

Mike Langseth LANGSETH: Mike Langseth no-tills soybeans and only makes one pass with a strip freshener to prepare their Red River Valley soils for planting corn. (North Dakota Soybean Council)

Reducing tillage was challenging for the Langseths because the silt-loam and sandy-loam soils on their farm naturally hold moisture very efficiently. When covered with crop residue, they are slow to warm up and dry out.

Chisel plowing and doing other types of tillage will reduce residue levels and blacken the soil, allowing it to dry out and warm up more quickly. But aggressive tillage can leave the soil exposed to the wind.

Wind erosion was a constant worry, Mike says. North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota soil specialists report that on average Red River Valley fields lose 3 to 8 tons of soil per acre per year.

Right equipment

For the Langseths, the “right equipment setup” that enables them to do to less tillage but still plant on time includes:

Non-chopping corn head. It leaves cornstalks standing after harvest. Only the leaves, husks and cob pieces cover the soil surface. “If stalks are chopped, one of two things will likely happen,” Mike says. “The residue may either float or blow away and pile up in thick mats. Then you have a mess.”

Single-disc drill to plant soybeans. The drill can easily slice through corn residue without plugging. Soybeans have no trouble emerging and growing through residue.

8-ton pull-type fertilizer spreader. They broadcast dry phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and sulfur (S) granules before planting corn or soybeans, but don’t mechanically incorporate them. Rain dissolves the granules, melting them into the soil. “The small spreader is helpful, in that we can spread fields earlier than we could if we called a commercial spreader without creating ruts that would require tillage to fix” Mike says.

Yetter strip freshener. The equipment prepares fields for corn planting. The freshener is like a strip-till implement, but it doesn’t build row berms. In one pass, the strip-freshener’s row cleaners move crop residue off the rows. The implement places 20 to 30 pounds per acre of liquid nitrogen in the rows. Several discs till the rows 2 to 3 inches deep. Rolling baskets firm the soil over the rows.

Yetter ManufacturingRows of strip-till corn created by a strip freshener

STRIP-TILL CORN: Rows created by a strip freshener are ready for planting corn. The area between the rows remains covered.

The strip freshener creates blackened rows that are level with the rest of the field and are ready to plant. Soil between the rows remains covered with residue. The Langseths make the pass with the strip freshener at least one day before planting corn.

Sidedress fertilizer applicator. The Langseths sidedress anhydrous ammonia between every other corn row any time after the corn is about 4 inches tall. “Ideally, you would wait for a 4- to 5-leaf stage, but if field conditions are good, it’s better to start a little early. If it’s warm and wet, the sidedress window can get away from you,” Mike says.

RTK guidance system. Using GPS, the system steers the tractor to keep the planter and sidedress applicator on the rows the strip freshener created. It also is used to keep the soybean drill between the corn rows. The RTK system is accurate to within a few inches.

Benefits

The no-till and strip-freshener system has allowed the Langseths to keep crop residue on their fields, protecting the soil from wind erosion. It has also been good for soil health. Tillage can break up soil structure, speed the decomposition and loss of organic matter, destroy the habitat of helpful organisms, and cause soil compaction, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Langseths have saved money, too. They haven’t needed to buy a high-horsepower tractor to do full-width conventional tillage. They don’t use as much diesel fuel because they are making fewer trips across the fields. They haven’t had to hire someone to help work fields ahead of the planter or drill after the combine.

All in all, the no-till and strip-till freshener system “works pretty well for us,” Mike says.

Tonneson writes from Mandan, N.D. He is a former editor of Dakota Farmer.
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