At first, Bo Norris' 60-something-year-old grandfather wasn't for the switch. A season's worth of experience with strip-till, however, is enough for Buddy Tucker to give his 22-year-old grandson a sideways nod of the head, all the time grinning with approval.
“I try not to tell him too much about what I've learned from him because his head will get too big. But I couldn't do it without him. Every time it gets going too good, something nit picky will come up or tear up. If you wait on him or get up with him, he'll get you back up running.”
Standing in a field of strip-till corn at mid-season, Norris and Tucker are talking about the ins and outs of using strip-till. “He wasn't all for it at first, but I kinda got him turned around a little bit now,” Norris teases.
Tucker retorts from another part of the field: “You're going to have to find some way to make better use of the manure.”
“Yeah, we'll have to put another step in it next year,” Norris laughs and agrees with his grandfather.
The Society Hill, S.C., duo went to strip-till last year in corn and soybeans to save time. They report the costs and the yields are about the same whether they grow corn and beans conventionally or in a strip-till method.
Timely and abundant rains have them on schedule to produce yields of more than 100 bushels per acre.
They're still making adjustments and learning how to adapt the practice to their land.
Norris and Tucker grow about 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, and rye and raise cattle.
They fertilize all their crops with chicken litter and sell their corn to The Egg and I Farm, one of the largest egg producers in South Carolina, Norris says.
This spring when they were applying the two tons of chicken manure per acre on the land, they noticed a problem.
“We didn't get rain early on and it looked like the manure didn't get to the roots,” Norris says. “It just sorta laid on top of the ground.”
He believes he can correct the problem by spreading the chicken litter in the fall, bedding the land up and planting the cover crop. Another alternative is to pull a disk to level the field and then incorporate the chicken litter into the ground.
“I believe it would be worth adding another pass through the field in order to keep the nitrogen and what little bit of potash is available,” Norris says.
“The metal has a tendency to wear out on the bottom. I was getting about 150 acres out of a shank. Now I'm getting 600 acres out of the back shank and about 300 acres out of the front shank. As you can see, it's got a lot of wearing to go.”
Norris and his grandfather planted corn in early March. They hook a four-row no-till planter behind a KMC strip-till rig. In the second season of strip-till, Norris says he's worked out the settings to save time on switching from field to field.
He's also put a piece of vinyl over the shank to reduce wear. “The metal has a tendency to wear out on the bottom. I was getting about 150 acres out of a shank. Now I'm getting 600 acres out of the back shank and about 300 acres out of the front shank. As you can see, it's got a heap of wearing to go.”
Going through the field with a no-till planter in tow, Norris has discovered that the practice is ideal for certain soil types and not so good for others.
Buddy Tucker describes the difference in soil types in plain terms: “If you've got the right land, it works perfect. On real hard land, it ain't worth two cents. On real sandy land, it ain't worth two cents.”
They farm a variety of soil types, so they have to adjust to the situation. For example, on sandy loam soils that have clay knolls, Norris will run a disk and harrow in order to get a stand with strip-till. On clay land, he slows from 5.3 mph to 4 mph to keep from pulling up so many clods and in order to get a stand. “You just have to leave the shank down and slow the speed down. You hate to run slow, but you'll hate it more to run by a field and not get a stand.
“I've learned that there are some fields it won't work for us,” Norris says. “There are some fields where you'd be better off disking it up and planting it conventional.”
Norris mainly points to the savings in time when bragging on the practice.
“To tell you the truth, there's not that much difference in costs or the crops in strip-till or conventional,” Norris says.
“We had good crops before we went to strip-till — we haven't had a good year like we're having so far this year on corn in three or four years,” Norris says.
He does report less weed pressure in strip-till.
He kills the cover crop with paraquat in the spring and runs a strip-till rig through the field. At planting, he'll apply a quart and a half of Bicep, mixed with atrazine. He'll lay-by with 22 gallons of liquid nitrogen per acre, followed by another quart of atrazine and a pound per acre of Evik. “That's pretty much all we do to the crop,” Norris says.
But the main benefit is a “heap of time” savings.
“I remember planting until midnight — me bedding and him planting — and that gets old quick,” Norris says. So far this season, 9 p.m. is the latest he and his grandfather have been out in the fields. That was at wheat harvest.
But whatever the practice, he's right there alongside his grandfather.
“I've worked with him ever since I could walk,” Norris smiles. “The first thing I learned to drive was a tractor. Farming just got in my blood at an early age and I couldn't get it out.”
Following high school, Norris enrolled at the University of South Carolina, with the intention of pursuing a career as an anesthesiologist.
A series of untimely deaths in the family left his grandfather alone to manage the operation.
Changed his mind
“That summer I just 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 is his third year to be in charge of the operation. But he doesn't forget to consult his grandfather.
“We fall out and have our differences, but he's been right there with me every time I've ever needed anything,” Norris says. “I'll stick with him just as long as he'll help me out.”
That could still be quite some time.
“I try not to tell him too much about what I've learned from him ‘cause his head will get too big,” Norris says as his grandfather snickers. “But I couldn't do it without him. Every time it gets going too good, something nit picky will come up or tear up. If you wait on him or get up with him, he'll get you back up running.”