Four years ago, Steve Maier and Ben Bergen set out on the strip-till route for reasons similar to those of a number of other Idaho sugarbeet producers doing so at that time. Their objectives were to (1) minimize wind erosion (and replants) on lighter soils, (2) reduce field passes prior to planting (saving time and fuel), and (3) bolster overall crop productivity. Some of the initial interest among the state’s beet producers has softened during the past year or two — often because of management issues with heavy trash in 22-inch rows. But for Maier and his employee Bergen, the interest in — and benefits of — strip-tilled beets still runs strong on the Maier farm near Rupert.
One key reason why is the modified cultivator they utilize for their strip-till pass. Not only was it very inexpensive to outfit for strip tilling; it also has proven very effective in providing an adequate — and protected — seedbed.
The base unit is an older 12-row cultivator built by Manitoba-based Elmer’s Manufacturing, to which Bergen added a couple ingenious modifications. While the cultivator already had cut-away disks, he installed an additional set ahead of them to aid in clearing wheat stubble from the beet row. Those disks came off an old Alloway cultivator that Maier had purchased for $300.
While the up-front disks do a good job of clearing away stubble in the seed row, the accompanying result was a deeper-then-desired ditch. That’s where the second set comes in. It is
reversed, so moves some of the soil back into the row. The resulting seedbed is slightly lower than the untilled inter-row area, providing two benefits, according to Bergen: “We have less problem with our beets freezing, and they don’t blow out.”
Marker grooves can become indistinct in their sandy soils, so Bergen came up with the idea of using two hinged corrugates to serve as guides for the following planter tractor’s V tires. He laughingly refers to the corrugates and the pressed furrows they create as “our homemade GPS units.”
Maier and Bergen make a late-fall pass with a McFarland harrow across the harvested wheat fields that will be going into beets the following spring. The angled pass spreads the wheat chaff quite uniformly across the field. That’s the only operation until the strip-till pass the following spring. Starter fertilizer goes on with the strip-till unit.
Since he already had the Elmer’s cultivator and plenty of scrap metal around the farmyard, Maier says his only investment — other than Bergen’s time — in the strip-till modification was the $300 for the Alloway cultivator. For his part, Bergen says it took only a couple days to make the alterations and get the system field-ready. “I made one row, checked it out and built the rest of them,” he relates, adding with a smile: “And it turned out all right.”
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower