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Title: Where does Strip Tillage Fit in Montana and Wyoming Sugarbeet Production

item Stevens, William - Bart
item Evans, Robert
item Iversen, William - Bill

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/7/2009
Publication Date: 1/12/2009
Citation: Stevens, W.B., Evans, R.G., Iversen, W.M. 2009. Where does Strip Tillage Fit in Montana and Wyoming Sugarbeet Production [Abstract]. 36-40.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Sugarbeet in Montana and Wyoming is often grown in a two year rotation alternating with spring grains. Normally, a sugarbeet grower will make five or more passes across a field for fertilizer application, disking, plowing or ripping, leveling, mulching and hilling. The high price of diesel fuel is making the conventional land preparation system unsustainable in the Lower Yellowstone Valley region where 2008 production costs are estimated to be about $900/ac for sugarbeet, mostly due to high fertilizer, chemical and fuel costs. Because of the high cost of intensive tillage along with frequent stand loss due to blowing soil, interest in some type of strip till for sugarbeet has been strong for many years. However, relatively little work has been done on strip tillage of sugarbeet over the last 20 to 25 years for both practical and technical reasons even though its potential has been widely recognized. Although there has been no single great breakthrough, several advances in herbicides, irrigation technologies, tillage and planting equipment, and the success of strip tillage for large seeded crops have given rise to the idea that many of the difficulties faced by earlier attempts with sugarbeet could be overcome, and the potential benefits made it worth another look. There is an increasing amount of sugarbeet production under self-propelled center pivot irrigation due to reduced labor availability and other considerations. We recently completed a study on the interaction between irrigation method and tillage on two-year, overhead sprinkler irrigated sugarbeet-malt barley crop rotations at the Montana State University Eastern Agricultural Research Center farm (10 ac) near Sidney, MT. We expected that strip tillage techniques would work well under sprinkler irrigation with flat planting sugarbeet, and it was included in this study because it reduces the number of equipment passes compared to the raised bed systems, which are not needed under sprinklers. This research showed that flat planting with standing stubble combined with the tilled strips can provide the same or increased benefits of wind erosion control and improved soil water levels at the surface as the commonly used bedding system. Five years of results have shown that strip tillage will produce yields comparable to conventionally tilled sugarbeet in the Lower Yellowstone River Valley. In addition, the presence of standing small grain residue before each sugarbeet crop potentially makes strip tillage a viable way to reduce the risk of crop damage due to soil erosion by wind in the spring. This is an attribute that should make irrigated sugarbeet rotations eligible for USDA conservation programs such as CSP, as well as an acceptable practice for required NRCS farm conservation plans. It should also be noted that the strip tillage treatment doesn’t require any more tillage than the conventional tillage following sugarbeet harvest before the succeeding barley crop. One of the central tenets of this research is that strip tillage is not just a minimum tillage technique. It affects the tractor, planting, cultivation and harvesting equipment. Fertilization amounts, timing and placement may have to be altered. Use of strip tillers in sugarbeet rotations after small grains will also require some changes to planting and cultivation equipment and practices to handle the high residue levels. Herbicide and other pest control programs may also have to be modified to be effective in high residue conditions. Beet harvesters may require some adjustments in very heavy soils if residue and mud build up on rollers. Therefore, strip tillage must be considered as an integral part of an entire cultural system that minimizes equipment passes through the field. High level guidance of the strip tiller and subsequent operations is especially critical if each operation is done separately. M