Profitable Practices: Strip tilling with Dan Petker

Port Rowan, Ont., cash cropper Dan Petker

Minimizing erosion, better crop inputs management and higher corn yields is what Port Rowan, Ont., farmer Dan Petker was looking for when he adopted strip tillage five years ago.

Farming with his family on the shores of Lake Erie, Petker turned to strip till — the process of minimizing tillage by cultivating eight-inch wide strips of soil and planting directly into those strips — to strike a balance between erosion control, profitable corn production and sustainability.

On this episode of Profitable Practices on RealAgriculture, Petker tells host Bernard Tobin that he initially turned to strip till for time management and more efficient fertilizer application. “Typically, I would need somebody to go spread fertilizer, and we’d have to work that in and then come plant, and I just didn’t have enough labour. So we condensed two of the operations of tillage and fertilizer broadcasts into one.”

Petker notes that one of the nice things about strip till is that it leaves a solid piece of unworked dirt between the strips which effectively holds the soil and fertilizer in place when blowing winds and pounding rains come to call.

In the video, Petker describes the coulter system on his Great Plains Nutri-Pro strip tiller. Fields are stripped in the spring, and depending on weather and soil conditions, corn can be planted from two hours to two days after fields have been stripped. (Story continues after the video.)

How does Petker measure the success of his tillage strategy? His evaluation starts at harvest where ground stability is much better and harvest traffic creates far fewer ruts. He’s seeing much less gully erosion and real erosion from major thaw events, and then there’s higher corn yields, which he attributes mainly to strip tillage.

From a dollars and cents perspective “we have eliminated the need for our broadcast spreader and an additional tractor. We’ve also eliminated… one more labour element, so we are probably dollar to dollar 30 per cent ahead by moving to the strip till system,” says Petker.

“So right there, our profitability or our margin has changed because now if you’re going to spend the money you can spend it elsewhere,” notes Petker. “The other wonderful thing is our soils are now staying where they are way better than they ever have. They’re not kind of eroding into the creek as they did when I was a kid. They’re not blowing up into the air and the soil will be here and sustainable for whoever wants it after we’re done.”

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