Making the Switch: Adopting a Stripper Header and Disc Drill

by Andy Schwab

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) interviewed six dryland grain producers to compare the ownership and operation costs of disc drills and stripper headers with hoe drills and auger/draper headers. According to the NRCS economic report, switching to a stripper header and disc drill from a draper header and hoe drill resulted in an average savings of $4.40 per acre/year for the six producers interviewed in this study.

While the initial investment is substantial, all producers interviewed believed that both the economic and soil health benefits were worth the equipment investment in the long-term. All six producers saved money with decreased fuel, maintenance, and labor inputs. Each farmer implements a different management system in a different area of Montana from Sunburst to Broadview and Plentywood to Columbus.

In addition to calculated cost savings, these farmers realized multiple soil health benefits that were not monetized in this analysis. Each producer spoke of the value of saving soil moisture and the ability to grow crops more often while decreasing fallow. Keeping the soil covered with tall stubble from the stripper header and minimizing soil disturbance with a disc drill are two key components of a healthy dryland crop system that will build both economic and environmental resilience for future generations.

A video and the Economics of Stripper Header and Disc Drill Adoption report highlighting the findings and interviews are available now on the NRCS website at nrcs.usda.gov/montana/soilhealth

Dryland grain production is the dominant crop system in Montana, with 5.5 million acres in wheat cultivation, primarily in the Golden Triangle of central Montana and the Platinum Rectangle of northeast Montana. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most dryland producers in these regions use a hoe drill for seeding and an auger or draper header for small grain harvest.

Disc drills and stripper headers offer a solution to the problems caused by hoe drills and low harvest heights. Single- and double-disc drills have the least soil disturbance of all drill types, and the design configuration allows for seeding into tall standing stubble, as there is no shank for residue to plug on. As a result, farmers with disc drills can leave standing stubble much taller at harvest. This tall stubble protects against erosion and creates a micro-climate that reduces soil water evaporation. While both auger and draper headers can harvest at heights of 10 to 12 inches or more, the stripper header leaves stubble even taller by only stripping off the grain head and leaving 90% of the residue standing and vertical. Paired together, disc drills and stripper headers are the best machinery combination for conserving soil and water and increasing soil health in dryland small grain rotations.

Contact the local NRCS field office for more information about conservation harvest management, soil health, and other conservation topics.

This week, April 1-7, is the inaugural Montana Soil Health Week! Join us in celebrating to help raise awareness about how healthy soils can increase crop yields, create greater climate resiliency, improve nutrition, and strengthen food security. Visit Montana Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Week webpage at montanasoilhealthweek.macdnet.org or visit the NRCS website at nrcs.usda.gov/montana/soilhealth.

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Montana NRCS – 2024

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