A well-known agronomist from southern Saskatchewan believes stripper headers on combines, that leave long-standing stubble, is the way to go for coping with dry conditions.
Troy LaForge says several other benefits come from using stripper headers.
“Catching more snow in the winter time is a big benefit and ultimately protecting the land from wind and other host of elements at the end of the day. Less fuel usage on our combine, less wear-and-tear putting straw through our combines, and then those long straws when they do end up on the ground in the next year or two after, they last a lot longer than a chopped up piece of straw and we just get better moisture retention long-term. It’s really building our soil quality is the big thing.” LaForge explained.
He noted research done in Swift Current that indicated leaving longer stubble helps retain moisture, eventually leading to a better crop yield.
“They basically found that you would gain 5 percent more yield if you went 6-inch (stubble), 10 percent if you went 12-inch, and then 14 percent if you stripped that stubble, so the evaporative losses are less, plus you gain more water so it’s kind of a one plus one equals three scenario.”
LaForge said producers may be concerned about the cost associated with the practice.
“Say you were a pea or lentil grower you may not use it on that crop so now you have to own a second header. Obviously costs are always a concern, you do need to think about that in the budgeting process, but I would contend the important part there is that if you’re going to increase productivity of your land, especially over the long term, that header is probably going to more than pay for itself and provide a good return.” he said.
The use of stripper headers, along with disc drills, is more common in U.S. States like Montana and the Dakotas.
He says it’s being adopted in southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan, as drought conditions continue, and believes it will continue to gain popularity.
“We’ve got quite a few manufacturers locally that are actually working on good technologies that would really help us to keep doing a better and better job of seeding into that.”
LaForge farms in the Cadillac area and has adopted the use of stripper headers and disc drills in his operation.
“The stripper header would generally harvest about two-thirds of our land, if not a little bit more. Some years if we got flax in the rotation we’ve been stripping that, and we’ve got neighbours now that are also working on stripping crops like canola, so it’s going to gain some of the percentage of acres as we learn better how to use them.” LaForge said.