“Do I really need to refresh my fall strips?”
This was one of the most frequent questions I heard being asked at the National Strip-Tillage Conference this year. More strip-tillers each year are adding spring strip-tillage to their regimen, but many farmers are wondering why.
What is the general purpose of spring strip-freshening?
The general idea is to create the optimal planting zone for every row, every field, every soil type, every year. You want to open that strip up, till the soil above where the seed will be to get that area warm and dry, and leave the moisture and soil underneath the seed undisturbed. The condition of fall strips going into spring depends on winter weather, which is always unpredictable, so the best way to ensure true consistency is to refresh the strips.
What problems can arise in between fall and spring that would cause me to need to refresh my strips?
The main problem that arises is crusting. Over winter, the fall strip tends to crust over, leaving a hard outer layer on top of the strip. This layer acts as a barrier, holding in moisture, and keeping the strip from being able to warm up. This happens nearly every year and can postpone planting, depending on the weather and severity of the crust. Another problem is trash floating into the fall strip, whether from wind or water. This also locks in moisture and keeps out warmth and sunlight. The third common problem is wash-out, which can happen with decent amounts of precipitation, especially on hilly ground. Some strip-tillers say that they sometimes have areas or even whole fields where they couldn’t see the fall strips after a big rain or snow melt.
Are there any measurable benefits, not counting improved appearance?
The main benefits are temperature, moisture level, and planting conditions. After refreshing, you can actually feel a temperature and moisture level difference by simply pressing your finger into the refreshed strip and then an unrefreshed fall strip. A shallow tillage allows you to break up that topsoil, warm it up, and dry it out, without disturbing the necessary moisture (and potential fertility added during fall strip-till) below the seedbed. All of this adds up to quicker and more even emergence.