An Ontario Canada Discussion, Strip Till and Placing Fertilizer – Is it Shanks or Coulters ?

Grower using a 1tRIPr and combination of liquid and dry products

Snow returned to Northern Colorado, a reminder that the groundhog that Bill Murray stole in the SuperBowl commercial with an orange Jeep went to play in the snow irregardless of sunshine or overcast and was having fun, for me it was scooping snow and blowing snow – all of it is not my idea of fun.  But riding a fat tire bicycle with a little buddy groundhog might be a riot.

The conversation regarding coulter strip till rigs versus shank rigs has risen again as to which may offer a better approach to placing nutrients in the soil for furnishing a young row crop to thrive and obtain successful yields.  An article in Farmtario, a journal from Ontario, Canada explored some facets of both sides of the strip till nutrient management program. If you have not read it; I suggest you can just zip over to look at the link: https://farmtario.com/machinery/strip-till-styles/  As a soil scientist I would like to add to what was written in what we do and see with the shank machine from Orthman Manufacturing, our 1tRIPr.

Always part of the reasoning and purpose of the shank unit we employ with the 1tRIPr is to prepare a seedbed, take care of possible soil compaction in the upper 12 inches, place nutrients and offer an optimal seedbed and rootzone for a newly planted row crop.  As a grower does such and wants to strategically place a portion of his/her nutrient program in the roots pathway our shank and with following wavy coulters first mix soil material and then pinch/press soil into the shank slot so we should not have a massive deposit of products plopped at 6 to 9 inches.  Our wavy coulter system which is right immediately behind the shanks on either side of the shank, these coulters are cambered and cast to do just that pinch and close effect.  [See the image to the lower left]  As they turn at the operating ground speed the wavy coulters are mixing the soil in a wave pattern if you will between the two of the them since they ride parallel to one another.  This action distributes dry, anhydrous or liquid products quite well.  I know we have followed behind both Montag and Salford dry fertilizer carts that are blowing dry products right behind the shank and individuals have applied from 40 pounds per acre of dry granular material up to 600 pounds.  The mix effect we have seen distributes dry for instance in a softball sized zone to large grapefruit sized area in the strip.  One can actually count the individual particles and they are not in a concentrated band like some have come to believe.  I say it pays to dig a lot and look so you can make sure.  When applying anhydrous product, the expansion of the gas and liquid turns out to be about a zone the size of a softball also.  With liquid the zone of where the liquid material gets distributed is somewhat dependent upon soil moisture conditions when strip tilled.  But know this folks it is not a hot zone about the size of a tennis ball right where the roots will get a burn.  Sure if the soil conditions are too moist to being wet – trouble can occur.  We at Orthman will be quick to tell you – wait until conditions allow some drying so the  banding of products do not create a hazard.

Red circle aids in telling the 1tRIPr’s proper distribution of pre-plant nutrients; dry and liquid in this case. Notice the wavy coulters position behind the shank to mix the soil.

Strip Till farming in Ontario, CA – applying dry products alone

We have evaluated what our tool provides growers in sandy soils to those with clay contents of near 65% and applying of N-P-K products, we believe a shank and coulter system is the best combination.  With that in mind, applying your years worth of nutrients pre-plant is clearly not the wisest choice in a season long nutrient management program.  So rates of 350 to 700lbs/acre of products is a move for what some thinks is efficient; in reality it is a case for potential losses of 50% or more or, expensive and as questioned – root burn waiting to happen.  Clearly folks from an agronomic point of view – do not do that.  Nobody feeds their pre-teen son or daughter a weeks worth of food in one sitting at the table and tell them survive until you turn 16.  Now that maybe a drastic case, but think about this – roots grow downward and out from the placement of the seed.  The root system continues to feed the above ground portion of the plant, as the roots grow and are pulled downward with gravity.  Yet soils with high CEC’s (>20-24meq/L) or those with substantial amounts of calcium carbonate can grasp onto positively charged ions in the soil solution and either not release them or allow N and S to leach deeper than the biologically active root zone and be out of reach.  With Nitrogen being such a mobile nutrient, it can essentially fly south (deep) and the root system not run into the N material, leaving you with little to none.  Now the fertilizer supplier did okay, you – well not so good.  In better rainfall zones of North America and conditions of a wet spring like 2019 turned out to be, losses to leaching, denitrification were awful.

So where am I going with this line of thought?  Folks the tillage method of Strip Till whether shank of only coulters is very smart.  Applying the seasons worth of N-P-K up front is not efficient, it is not cost-wise, most likely it is environmentally not the best option either.  The row crops we plant do not consume all their nutrients within the first 40 days of growth after seeding, when in reality certain nutrients do not get taken up and used in the plants photosynthetic span until 80-90 days into growth and some after pollination.  In that meantime the mobile nutrients could be off towards the Mississippi Delta.  It is really an education/understanding for you to gain, to “feed the plant, not the soil”.  We feed our kiddos for nearly 20 years do we not?  I suppose that is different for some, they keep showing up asking for Mom’s cooking.  Please I take this seriously to offer you all to look to a full term system methodology of feeding your corn, soybeans, dry edibles, vegetable crops and small grains.  Strip Tillage starts it off with precision placement, we believe the shank machine like the 1tRIPr does it extremely well.

In future articles I will discuss with you more thoughts on the crop life cycle has demands of specific nutrients which we can supply via the root system, yes foliarly and yes sprayed on the ground near the strip till zone and moisture will help in getting it to the roots.  The world of what goes on in the soil ladies and gentlemen is complex but a puzzle we are figuring out.  Stay tuned.