The Role of Strip-Tillage in Sustainable Agriculture

By RANDY HAARBERG, Precision Tillage Systems Agronomist, Orthman Manufacturing
Download a PDF copy of this file here.

Growers around the world are recognizing the value of true stewardship and conservation tillage methods. Many have begun to reassess their approach to farming and acknowledge that sustainability of the land will be a significant factor for agriculture in the future.

In the next 10 years, the world’s population will reach eight billion, and is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. Conservative estimates forecast growth in global food demand of at least 50 percent in the same period, even as global food production faces extraordinary challenges from rising temperatures, more severe floods and droughts and new pests and plant diseases. Experts conclude we must increase food production through higher plant productivity because we cannot count on adding more arable land.1

One of the ways growing numbers of farmers around the world are helping ensure the sustainability of their land for future generations is through conservation tillage practices such as no-till and strip-till. Conservation tillage leaves a large percentage of crop residue on the soil surface during the soil erosion periods that occur pre-plant, at emergence and after harvest. This slows wind and water movement, which reduces soil erosion and helps retain moisture within the soil. No-till techniques seek to retain 100 percent of the ground cover by planting seeds into a narrow strip cut by a coulter wheel; strip-till techniques intensively till the soil in narrow rows to prepare a seedbed, but leave the soil in between the rows undisturbed.

Both techniques benefit farmers by reducing the number of times a farmer needs to cross the field, thereby saving fuel and labor and reducing the compaction of the soil. Although no-till techniques can still require multiple passes, advances in strip-till equipment have reduced the number of trips across the field to as few as one, in which each strip is tilled, cultivated and fertilized immediately before seeds are placed by an integrated planting system.

Although there may be a small increase in erosion risk, one of the benefits of strip-till versus no-till is improved production. Cool, moist soil conditions are exacerbated by no-till techniques and can delay crop germination in the spring. Strip-tillage removes residue in the seed row, uncovering dark earth to absorb the sun’s energy and encourage much more rapid warming of the soil and therefore earlier and more robust germination.2

However, soil warmth is only one of a combination of factors important in improving yield that are addressed by modern strip-till equipment. Breaking up the soil in tilled rows allows an aerobic condition and creates an ideal seedbed, while eliminating compaction in the root zone improves conditions for early root development and creates an ideal environment throughout the growing season. Dry, liquid or NH3 fertilizer can be simultaneously applied only in these rows where the seed is being planted and at precisely determined depths to improve proximity of the fertilizer to the roots.

This precision in fertilizer placement creates new fertilizer options for producers that can have a positive effect on crop yield. According to, research in Kansas showed that when utilizing strip-till practices, producers can more effectively place nutrients directly below the seedbed to efficiently supply some of the crop’s nutrient requirements, particularly nutrients with limited mobility such as phosphorus and potassium where precise placement can make nutrients more available to seeds.3

The research showed that producers using strip-tillage significantly increased corn yields compared to no-till at several locations. For example, the average corn yield increase of strip-till over no-till was 28 bushels per acre in Manhattan, Kan., in 2003. also cited work done by the Irrigation Research Foundation (IRF) in eastern Colorado from years comparing strip-tillage to conventional tillage:

“This work has shown a four-year average corn yield increase of 16 bushels per acre in striptillage compared to conventional tillage, with a range of increase from 11 to 24 bushels. Strip-till also produced deeper and more abundant roots to explore greater volumes of soil for water and nutrients. For example, 90 days after emergence (2002) total corn root length with strip-till was about three times that of conventional tillage and rooting depth was 12 inches greater. Water infiltration was also significantly increased in strip-till.”4

In an era of growing climate uncertainty, one thing most experts agree on is that water will take on increasing importance to future farmers. By leaving residue intact, both no-till and strip-till conserve considerably more moisture in the soil than conventional tillage systems. The crop residue absorbs the impact energy of raindrops and helps limit dispersal and crusting by impeding overland water flow and providing more time for the runoff to infiltrate through soil pores.

While strip-tilling may leave fields open to somewhat more soil erosion than no-till techniques, both are a dramatic improvement over conventional tillage. Research done by the University of Wisconsin Lancaster Agricultural Research Station involved placing passive runoff collectors in a field with both chiseled and strip-tillage on an 8 percent slope. The measured soil loss in a year that experienced substantial rainfall during the early part of the growing season prior to crop canopy closure was 4.67 tons of soil per acre in chisel, but only .28 tons of soil per acre in strip-tillage.5

As agricultural growing conditions change around the world, producers will have to embrace new technologies to keep pace with increasing demand. Agronomists are already working with plant biologists as well as agricultural equipment engineers to develop new and more efficient ways to produce crops from the same amount of tillable land while maintaining
the quality of the soil. Strip-till is the innovation that this generation of progressive farmers brought to the table. We’re eager to see what comes next.

1. Haga M., “Feeding a Growing World — Despite Climate Change,” Crop Trust

2. Godsey, C., Kochenower, R., Taylor, R., “Strip-till Considerations in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, PSS-2134

3. “Strip tillage and fertilization for corn,”

4. Ibid

5. Wolkowski, R., Cox, T. and Leverish, R., “Strip-tillage: a conservation option for Wisconsin farmers,” University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension (A3883)

Originally from Wauneta, Neb., Randy grew up on a farm and holds an agri-business degree from Chadron State College. He spent 26 years as an independent agronomist focused on the
high-scale producers in the high plains of northeast Colorado before joining Orthman. Haarberg focuses on agronomic education and assists the Orthman team, dealers and growers worldwide with crop production systems recommendations.

Test plot underway…

Installing trial plots today with Cargill at the ‘Agronomic Pro Shop’ in Hebron, Indiana.

This plot is in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy and Cargill. The Nature Conservancy is showing that you can raise high-yield crops with conservation tillage practices. They  are comparing strip till, conventional till, no till and cover crops.

From South Africa – Orthman XDR combines 1tRIPr strip tillage with John Deere planter

Courtesy ProAgri magazine in South Africa, here’s a story about the introduction of the Orthman XDR, a 1tRIPr strip-till machine and John Deere planter – combined into one pass across the field!

The story is in the Afrikaans language – but you can download an English version of the John Deere Orthman XDR story here. Special thanks go out to our friends at GWK and John Deere for hosting a great field day!

Strip-till water effects

Agronomist Mike Petersen documents soil pores in strip-till corn.

Orthman researchers are constantly looking for ways to help producers. Here, agronomist Mike Petersen and agronomy intern Logan Brown are studying “soil pores,” the tiny holes in soil that allow water to ‘infiltrate’ (soak into) the soil, getting this precious supply to the roots rather than letting it run-off or evaporate.

Mike is within one inch (“near surface”), using a 10X magnifying lens to determine how many and what size of pores there are in the soil. Look for details of this soil characteristic study in upcoming weeks.

Strip-Tillage in Australia

Courtesy Hardman Communication.

Equipment choice saves Toowoomba grower three weeks in busy planting season

(January 2013) –  Grower Wayne Ziesemer has been able to significantly improve his operation since moving to the new Orthman 1tRIPr strip till system which is built to place fertiliser and prepare the seed bed in the one pass.

Wayne runs a 1,500-hectare cropping operation spread across two properties at Bongeen, 55 km west of Toowoomba with his wife Leanne and parents, Peter and Daph Ziesemer. His summer cropping operation includes a rotation of 500 hectares of sorghum with either 500 hectares of corn or cotton depending on seasonal conditions.

His decision to move to the Orthman 1tRIPr six months ago was based on the machine’s ability to combine strip till and nutrient placement at two depths in the one pass.

20 row 36" 1tRIPr strip tillage machineThe Orthman 1tRIPr, distributed through Muddy River Agricultural, is built to perform in the heaviest of stubble, with its ability to cut the soil surface and subsurface residue, while ensuring consistent depth due to its parallel linkages. In comparison, conventional till systems can lead to soil compaction due to the increased number of passes required to plough or till the soil prior to fertiliser application.

“We were impressed by the fact that the machine has been tried and tested in the United States with operators finding it can deliver up to 15 to 20 per cent yield increases, which makes it an appealing choice for our operation” said Wayne.

Potential fuel savings were also appealing for Wayne. “Fewer passes translates to lower fuel costs which adds to our overall profitability.”

“Using the Orthman, we had a beautiful plant line to follow and we were exceptionally pleased with the consistency of the seed bed. A good seed bed means good yields so we’re looking forward to a promising season ahead.”

Wayne’s machine has been modified to ensure it can meet the varied fertiliser requirements for both his irrigated and non-irrigated land.

“We ordered the 18.28 m model but had it modified so that it can fold to 9.14 m when working on our irrigated property, which requires smaller equipment due to the heavier soil. Being able to space the machine accordingly gives us a lot of flexibility and saved us having to buy two pieces of equipment.”

Two one tonne Anhydrous fertiliser tanks are attached to either side of the tractor during fertilising operations along with a 6,000 litre Simplicity air cart which is towed by a John Deere 8360RT.

“We planted our corn crops in early January as we got the rains on time. We were pleased with the strike and emergence rate of our corn which we put down to the previous working of the Orthman 1 tRIPr,” said Wayne.

For more information on the Orthman 1tRIPr and Muddy River Agriculture’s range of equipment, go to

See a video of this strip till machine here.

Strip tillage research results

Results are pouring in from strip tillage studies around the globe, and drought conditions worldwide are showing that strip-till works!

In the Snake River Plains of Idaho, the University of Idaho, USDA-ARS in sugar beets, and Orthman Manufacturing have teams up to determine beet quality, sugar content, soil Nitrogen, beet tonnage, and residue effects on stand and beet yield. Download the study results white paper here.


In central Nebraska, Petersen looked at continuous corn, comparing No-Till and Strip-Till methods on irrigated ground. Download the the study results white paper here.

Studies were also conducted at the Orthman Research farm testing precision fertilizer placement and effects of sidedress fertilizer using coulter-injection and RTK guidance. Download the study results whitepaper here.

A third test in central Nebraska looked at the effects of strip tillage and precision fertilization practices with soybeans. Download the study results whitepaper here.

Dr. Laura Gentry continued the University of Illinois Sustainable project and noted the benefits that strip tillage had in a tough year of drought. Download the study results whitepaper here.



Soil density and compaction was analyzed by Kip Balkom and the University of Georgia. This sustainable projects at Tifton, GA looked at strip tillage and its effects on peanut production. Download the study results white paper here.



In central Texas, Coufal-Prater conducted side-by-side studies in dryland corn plots, testing conventional tillage vs strip tillage. Download the study results white paper here.



In Mpumalanga, South Africa – JWL Enterprises are investigating strip tillage methods, looking at fuel savings, fertilizer placement, moisture loss, and all the other benefits that strip tilling can impact. Download the study results white paper here.

StripTillFarmer article on fertilizer placement

Hot off the press! Here’s a Dan Zinkand article from Strip-Till Farmer magazine… talking about the benefits of fertilizer placement and strip tillage.

Read the complete story here, courtesy

From the story:
For successful results in strip-till, fertilizer needs to be placed in a zone where the roots and seedlings of corn can readily access plant-food nutrients.

But soil types, weather conditions and soil-sample results that affect the application timing and fertilizer placement and choice can all be major factors in that success.

For example, shallow placement of anhydrous ammonia in spring strip-tilled fields can burn the roots and kill germinating corn. And if strip-tillers apply anhydrous ammonia in the fall when the soil temperature is too warm — or if they strip-till into sandy soils — nitrogen can drop out of the seed zone.

Fertilizer programs and placement need to be just right, leaving an array of important choices for strip-tillers to make.

From the Mike Petersen interview:
“Plant roots don’t seek nutrition,” Petersen says. “They live in the presence of nutrition. Roots are pulled down by gravity and follow the warming of soil. If nutrition is in the same areas as the growing roots, they will be fed. But if the roots have to hunt for nutrition, the plant suffers and yields suffer.”

In the first 45 days of corn growth, the roots tend to grow in two triangles, one on top of the other, Petersen says. The corn roots in the top triangle represent the first shallow growth in that triangle, which is 6 inches tall and 13 inches across at the base.

The second stage of root growth is in a triangle that is 8 inches tall and 18 inches wide at the base, Petersen says. The top point of the second triangle starts 3½ inches below the surface of the soil, which is the top of the first triangle of root growth.

Roots in the top triangle represent the first 20 days of corn growth, while those in the bottom triangle are the next 25 days of growth.

“We must provide fertilizer for the plant so it’s healthy up to 45 days after emergence, which is when the corn plant determines yield,” he says. “At 45 days after emergence, the plant sets the number of rows around the cob.

“In the next 20 to 40 days — right up to pollination and shortly afterward — the corn plant sets the number of kernels running the length of the ear.”

Read the complete story here on the StriptillFarmer site.

Great news for a great producer!

Yahoo! It’s always good to hear about good things happening to good people, and Dino certainly qualifies as good people!

1tRIPr user wins conservation awardDino Giacomazzi is a 4th generation California dairy producer (and tRIPr user!) named the California recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award, given annually to landowners that are “actively committed to a land ethic.” The award is named for author and environmentalist Aldo Leopold, who wrote that “… a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen OF it.”

Read the story about Dino’s award at

Get to know Dino at his blog, or see him on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, or Quora, or watch a Keynote Address about his conservation tillage program on YouTube.



Deep fertilizer placement: Laurie & Jim Black Farms, Queensland Australia

Newspaper story

Story by Clarisa Collis

Deep fertiliser placement tackles subsoil constraints

Subsoil phosphorous deficiencies identified in long-term research across the northern grain-growing region have spurred a new approach in fertiliser application for the Black family at Brookstead in south-east Queensland.

The Blacks – brothers Laurie and Jim, along with Jim’s son Peter – have invested in an Orthman 1tRIPr strip tillage machine designed to cultivate the seedbed and place fertiliser down to a depth of 20 centimetres in the soil.

The aim is to address phosphorous deficiency in the the subsoil, as opposed to the topsoil, which research has revealed is limiting yields by between 10 and 20 percent on their 1618-hectare cotton and grain property.

GRDC funded research, ongoing since 2006, has found that the constraint is reducing yields by up to 20 percent on 25 farms, from Gunnedah, New South Wales, to Capella, Queensland, including the Blacks’ farm.

Leader of the collaborative search from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Dr Mike Bell says deep fertilizer applications involving strategic tillage are the key to eliminating the phosphorous deficiency as a production restraint.

This is because phosphorus is an immobile nutrient that tends to remain in the top 10cm of the soil profile where it is placed using conventional practices for applying fertilisers. This contrasts with mobile nutrients, such as nitrogen and sulfur, that move with moisture into the deeper soil layers where plant roots are the most active in removing nutrients.

Dr Bell says oats sim is another immobile nutrient likely to result in cropping losses in the future, particularly since the Blacks introduced cotton to their cropping program last year.

“Cotton has a higher Potassium requirement than grain crops, so it’s like a canary in a coal mine that warns when reserves of the nutrient are close to running out.”

Peter Black says the potassium deficiency has already shown itself in the cotton crop they harvested in April. The new machine is expected to help redress the issue and avoid further productivity losses.

Although the Orthman 1tRIPr is set to “compromise” their zero-till practices, Peter says the minimal soil disturbance in its wake is expected to improve water infiltration and reduce compaction in the seedbed.

He says other benefits of the investment include the residual effects of deep-banding fertilizer over several years and the ability to apply a mix of nutrients deep and shallow in a single pass.
– By Clarissa Collis

Strip tillage helps add a few precious days in drought and other poor conditions

Courtesy Brownfield Ag News:

Listen to Adam here. (2:47 mp3)

Orthman strip tillage 1tripr

“At the Orthman display at the Farm Progress Show, we talked to market development representative Adam Souder about the Orthman 1tRIPr (one-tripper) strip-till machine.

According to Souder, the 1tRIPr preplant tillage tool combines proven strip-till soil management, precision nutrient placement, and seedbed preparation in a single field pass to provide unprecedented field efficiency.

Souder says the 1tRIPr name is derived from combining multiple operations to meet preplant objectives while conserving moisture, soil, time, and money in one trip.”

Story by Ken Anderson

Orthman Research Farm field day

Strip-till-corn-on-corn-yieldHe’s at it again! Mike and Mark hosted a field day at the Orthman Research Farm, showing what years of trials, tests, and side-by-side comparisons are showing – the strip till system WORKS! Special thanks to Kugler Fertilizer, Hoegemeyer Seeds, Larry Reichenberger with Furrow Magazine, Dan Zinkand, FBSciences Carbon Boost S, Pioneer Seed, Mycogen – and all the dealers and growers that joined us in the 101 degree temps! Luckily, the MESSAGE was COOL!