By Don Lilleboe
Doug and Melanie Carlquist were among a sizable contingent of Idaho sugarbeet producers who attended a strip-till seminar and field demonstration hosted by Amalgamated Sugar Company back in the summer of 2008. And, like a number of those attending, they were impressed enough with the perceived benefits of the production system that they purchased a new strip-till unit for deployment in their upcoming row crop fields.
The Carlquists, who farm near Eden in Jerome County, have stuck with the strip-till game plan, however. Now entering their fourth year of producing sugarbeets and other row crops under strip till, they’ve found that their original objectives — saving time and reducing fuel consumption — have been borne out. And, they’ve been able to satisfactorily manage the previous crop’s residue.
The unit purchased by the Carlquists in the fall of 2008 was a 12-row, 22-inch Strip Cat, manufactured by Twin Diamond Industries out of Nebraska. “We were intrigued by its offset design and the ability, we thought, for the trash to flow a little more smoothly,” Doug recounts.
Still, the transition wasn’t without some challenges for their new Strip Cat. “We had a field of corn in which we wanted to strip till beans,” he recalls. “Strip tilling into heavy corn stubble on 22-inch rows was a nightmare, given the amount of residue you have to push through that small an area.” The experience prompted a call to Twin Diamond, whose owner, Dean Carstens, came out to the Carlquist farm. “The Strip Cat originally came with the hilling disk as a curved disk,” Doug relates. “Dean recommended we go to a straight coulter. We did, loosened up some of the tension — and it worked as slick as a whistle.” They also ran a double-spring auto reset tripper system for rocks.
The Carlquists’ approach to residue management has three basic components when following small grains, as they typically do with sugarbeets. First, they bale off much of the straw and sell it to area dairies. Secondly, they run a heavy McFarland harrow across the field a couple times to help spread the remaining loose residue. And third, “as soon as we feel we have a majority of the volunteers germinated and emerging, we’ll go in with a Roundup application so it doesn’t get too ‘soddy.’
“We seem to have been able to control the residue problem that way.”
The Carlquists started out performing their strip-till pass in the spring; but in 2010, they did so in the fall for the first time. “When spring (2011) came, we were a little concerned about the kind of seedbed we’d have,” Doug says. “We had a lot of moisture (in 2010), and we do have somewhat of problem with building a big enough berm with the strip-till unit. So our rows were depressed a bit. But we were able to get the row cleaners down there and clean things off — and it worked out quite well.”
A downside to a fall strip-till operation is the heavy row-crop harvest workload. “But if you can fit it in, the fall pass has its benefits,” Doug believes — a primary one being the ability to get into the field a bit earlier in the spring, which is a priority with sugarbeets.
The Carlquist beet fertility program starts with a broadcast application of sulfur and the recommended potash prior to the strip-till pass. “Then we’ll put down roughly 70 units of N and 35-40 units of P with the strip-till unit,” Doug explains. “After the beets come up, we’ll look at what kind of stand we have and our anticipated yield; then top-dress with a dry formula nitrogen to whatever yield goal we have.
“Some people put everything down when they’re strip tilling,” he adds. “But I’m not a fan of that because you don’t know at that point what kind of stand you’ll end up with. If you put down nitrogen for a crop of 30-35 tons and you end up with a poor stand and get only 20, you’ve wasted money, and the quality of your beets will be lower.”
The Carlquists say their crop irrigation needs have been slightly less under strip till, “because especially early in the year, you have that inter-row stubble that helps hold the moisture.” Germination and emergence is also a little stronger compared to their conventional tillage experience, they believe. “Some people, when strip tilling, have gone in and cultivated afterward. We have not done that,” Melanie notes. They do run an AerWay® Row Crop System unit through the field shortly before row closure to aid water retention — especially on their hillier ground.
As they enter their fourth year of sugarbeet production under strip till, Doug and Melanie Carlquist are comfortable with that decision they made back in latter 2008. “We’re encouraged by strip till,” Doug affirms. “The fervor that was created a few years ago has died down; but for us, it’s been a good thing.”
“It’s still a ‘work in progress,’ ” Melanie adds. “Nothing is set in concrete. But we’re going to keep at it.”