4R Considerations for No-Tillage or Strip-Tillage Systems
October 26, 2022 | By Austin Omer, ForGround by Bayer Sustainable Systems Agronomist
Harvest is here, and fall fertilizer applications are top-of-mind. Here are a few things to consider for no-tillage (no-till) or strip-tillage (strip-till) systems. These practices require a different approach to fertilizer practices because the soil properties are changed. Increased residue and microbial biomass may alter nutrient availability and therefore require adjusting timing, placement, forms, and rates of fertilizer applications.
During no-till and even strip-till systems, a build-up of nutrients in the top inch or two of the soil profile can occur and necessitates that nutrients be applied subsurface for optimizing plant growth. For no-till, consider applying split application in the spring with the planter combined with a latter top-dress. Side banding or 2 by 2 by 2 placement of starter fertilizer with a planter can be a great way to apply fertilizer for nutrient use efficiency. Also, nitrogen (N) uptake or immobilization by bacteria on the surface in the increased organic matter may require an additional N rate in the first few years after a change in tillage systems.
If applying N in the fall, consider using a nitrification inhibitor to improve nitrogen use efficiency. However, even with an inhibitor, you should always consider soil temperature. Optimal application occurs when soil is below 50°F at a four-inch depth before knifing in. Many state weather stations have local meteorological stations which can give you soil temperatures at differing depths, including four inches. Up to 20% of the nitrogen can be lost with fall application (1) so it is important to carefully consider your options: applying the right rate, using an inhibitor, and checking soil temperatures. If conditions are not optimal, consider an application in the spring.
Strip-till can have has many benefits including alleviating compaction, contributing to soil temperatures warming earlier in the spring, and allows for subsurface fertilizer application while tilling. Depending on if strip-tilling is in the fall or spring, the same considerations previously mentioned for fall no-till applications can be used.
For phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), check your local price. If soil test levels are significantly above estimated crop removal, you may be able to hold off on applications for a year. Subsurface application of P will reduce losses due to runoff, especially in areas of the United States where there is high rainfall in the fall and winter seasons. In other regions,’ surface applications of P and K will suffice; however, keep in mind that it takes a while for P and K to move deeper into the soil profile, and soil testing is encouraged.
Remember the success of next season’s crop starts at harvest, however no matter where you are on your regenerative agriculture journey, ForGround by Bayer is here to help your operation every step of the way. ForGround is a farmer-first digital platform that can help transform the way farms of all sizes make the transition to sustainable agricultural practices. This program offers growers tools, resources, and discounts, as well as the potential to earn revenue through the Bayer Carbon Program (2) for the adoption of regenerative practices and gives farmers the opportunity to connect with businesses looking to advance their sustainability and carbon goals.
1 Ruffatti, M. D., Roth, R. T., Lacey, C. G., & Armstrong, S. D. (2019). Impacts of nitrogen application timing and cover crop inclusion on subsurface drainage water quality. Agricultural Water Management, 211, 81-88.
2 This Bayer Carbon Program described in this material is subject to the current version of the Bayer Carbon-Smart Practices Master Agreement. The information is to aid in the understanding of the Bayer Carbon Program and does not change or modify the Bayer Carbon-Smart Practices Master Agreement in any way. The recommendations in this material should be considered as one reference point and should not be substituted for the professional opinion of agronomists, entomologists or other relevant experts evaluating specific conditions in a given field. Bayer and Bayer Cross are registered trademarks of Bayer Group. ©2022 Bayer Group. All rights reserved.