The Sharp Edge: Strip-tilling corn with Tony Balkwill

Is there a marriage to be made between precision agriculture and strip tillage in corn?

That’s a question Maizex Seeds’ agronomist Greg Stewart and Real Agriculture’s Bernard Tobin tackle on the first episode of The Sharp Edge, a new video series debuting on RealAg, brought to you by Maizex Seeds.

In the months ahead our co-hosts will be looking to farmers, agronomists and researchers to give them the sharpe edge on everything from agronomic problem solving to increasing profitability and improving sustainability.

On the first episode, our co-hosts visit with farmer and agronomist Tony Balkwill, who operates Nithfield Advanced Agronomy near Drumbo, Ont.

Balkwill explains how he makes strip till work on his farm and in clients’ fields. Initially, he started strip tilling to make soil preparation more efficient, but he now believes that the big benefit strip till delivers for growers is greater fertilizer efficiency.

Over time, Balkwill has shifted from making strips in the fall to spring applications that allow him to better manage lighter soils on his farm and apply spring nitrogen. He uses a coulter-based machine rather than shanks and feels that fall strip till is indeed a good fit for heavier soils. (Story continues after the video.)

How about that strip till-precision ag wedding? Balkwill says it certainly makes sense when there’s an opportunity to apply fertilizer at variable rates based on soil type. His experience indicates that adjusting fertilizer rates by 25 per cent — up or down — based on soil type can deliver a nice economic return.

When it comes to phosphorus, applying the nutrient within the strip has become standard practice for Balkwill. His experience shows growers can cut rates (compared to broadcast) and still see a good response.

Balkwill also discusses the fertilizer rates and blends he applies to a typical field; why he prefers to run the strip tiller without the planter attached in spring; and the biggest challenges strip tillers have to tackle to further optimize the system to deliver more benefits for farmers, soil, and the environment.

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