The Agronomists, Ep 12: Dean Toews and Mark Brock on strip-tillage pros, cons, and fertility management


Two provinces and thousands of kilometres apart, farmers Dean Toews and Mark Brock run surprisingly similar strip-tillage systems.

The benefits are similar too, even with substantially different soil types and weather conditions, as these farmers share on this episode of The Agronomists. From lessons learned, to equipment choices and fertility management, learn more about the practice of strip-tillage here.

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Mark Brock farms near Staffa, Ont., growing soybeans, corn, edible beans, winter wheat, and trying winter canola. Soil is variable, a few stones, and clay loam in texture.

Dean Toews farms about 4,000 at MacGregor, Man. on mainly sandy loam soil, and grows corn, edible beans, sunflowers, and soybeans


  • Strip tillage. What does it really mean for our panelists?
  • For Dean it’s a low intensity of tilling, but high intensity in a small strip. Considered zero-till between the strips. An 8″ wide strip every 30 inches
  • This is how Dean treats most of his row crop acres now. Used to be just for corn, but that’s changing.
  • Mark — create black strip of soil, warming up the soil in that strip. 30 inch rows, working about a third of the field
  • Biggest benefit for Dean — first one is soil erosion. They are able to do less tilling. One pass is a huge benefit as well.

CLIP 1: Corn School: Strip tillage could mean being on a field one to two days later

  • How has strip tilling changed on Mark’s farm? The only real difference is adding more crops.
  • Dean has added shank units to his strip-tilling. Going about 8 inches deep — there’s a lot to be found that deep down (but it also breaks up plow pan layer).
  • How does the Yetter hold up to clay? It holds up pretty good, but can still be pretty gooey if it gets loamy. Depends on soil moisture. If you aren’t going to drag the cultivator through…you can’t drag the strip-tiller through.
  • What is a stale seedbed? Mark defines it as there is no tillage or anything done to it come spring. It’s strip-tilled in the fall, and settles over winter. They don’t freshen the strips up in the spring, just seed directly in.
  • Do you need RTK for it? It’s necessary.

CLIP 2: Corn School: How does strip till impact your soil test?

  • Nutrient management
  • How do you handle soil testing in the strips? It varies…but it’s never a full soil test, for Dean
  • Mark takes about 70 per cent of its nutrients from chicken manure that is broadcast, so they don’t have “hot zones” as some other producers may have.
  • Dean strip-tills in the spring, not fall. So they set the strip-till units up to have liquid N and sulphur, and dry potash as a dry product
  • Mark’s plan going into this fall is to put potash into the soil with his strip-tiller
  • It’s not all about yield, it’s about profit per acre
  • They are seeing some pretty big benefits
  • Strip-tillage and weed control — it plays a huge part in weed control, especially with cover cropping. It “covers” the ground and allows you to not disturb the field.
  • Is Dean seeing more adoption of strip-tillage in Manitoba? They started in 2013, and didn’t know of anyone else in Manitoba that was doing it at the time. Now there’s a handful of people doing it, but still not highly adopted.
  • Head further east to Ontario, and there’s a lot more being done for sure. Plenty of farmers have had success with it, Mark says.

CLIP 3: Corn School: Searching For The Perfect Strip Till Berm

  • Machines! Machines! Machines! Watch the clip above for some great info on some of the strip-tillers out there, featuring RealAgriculture’s resident agronomist Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson
  • Biostrips — neither have tried, but find it fascinating. It’s on Mark’s bucket list — they are going to try this year. Stay tuned!
  • For those that are curious about strip-tillage, what’s your best piece of advice? Mark says to find a mentor, someone you really respect. Don’t be afraid to try something new — on a small scale — and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Dean says don’t take on too many acres at once, and get your ducks in a row before you try. Do your research!


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