Grower fine-tuning strip-till system

The strip-till education of Bo Norris continues. The young farmer will take some of the lessons he learned this season into his third year of using strip-till.

“It's all trial and error,” Norris says. “You have to keep playing with it until you perfect it for your situation.” Norris, 22, farms with his grandfather, Buddy Tucker in Society Hill, S.C.

At mid-summer, Norris considered adding an extra tillage pass to the process. He uses chicken litter as fertilizer and noticed that the “manure wasn't getting to the roots.” At harvest, however, the yields didn't show any problem.

“In some fields I will have to disk the manure in, but in most fields I'm not going to have to pull a disk through again to get the manure down to the roots,” Norris says.

He also made a decision not to plant a cover crop this fall. He was considering planting a cover crop, but now believes the corn provides enough organic matter to serve as a cover on the field.

Norris admits the decisions he's making are somewhat linked to the pocketbook, but he believes strip-till is a practice destined to be a long-term investment on his farm. This fall he bought an 8-row strip-till planter in hopes of speeding up his operation and adding more land. The cover crop and the extra tillage add costs.

Last season helped him see why he has gone to strip tilling. “My chemical costs were higher this year than last year,” Norris says. “I did drop in fuel costs, however; and the wear and tear on equipment by not having to buy disk blades.”

When he figured the extra cost of chemicals last season, Norris still came out ahead.

Timely rains put their corn yields at more than 100 bushels per acre. Soybean yields are estimated at 28 to 30 bushels per acre.

Norris remembers the midnight plantings using conventional tillage. He would bed and his 60-something-year-old grandfather would follow close behind planting. “That gets old quick.”

Now, 9 p.m. is usually the latest he has to stay in fields — and that's at harvest.

“With strip-till, the savings is mainly in time,” Norris says. “We do have higher chemical bills, but we have lower costs for fuel and wear and tear on the equipment.”

Norris never left the farm, but was intent on pursuing a career as an anesthesiologist following high school.

A series of untimely deaths in the family left his grandfather alone to manage the operation.

“That summer I changed my mind one day and went to Chesterfield-Marlboro Tech and got a degree in business management while continuing to run the farm,” Norris says.

This coming season will mark his fourth year in charge of the operation.

He points out, however, that he doesn't forget to consult his grandfather about situations.

“I've worked with him ever since I could walk,” Norris says. “I couldn't do it without him. Every time it gets going too good, something nit picky will tear up. If you wait on him or get up with him, he'll get you back running.”

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