Studies show how no-till can save farmers money

     No-till is a great way to reduce the use of diesel fuel and to use nutrients, especially nitrogen, more efficiently.

     We know input costs for farming are increasing, fertilizer, pesticide, and diesel fuel prices are all increasing. Even if corn prices are up, it’s still hard to offset the rise of inputs. Any way to reduce even one of these inputs could help put more money in a producer’s pocket.        

     The National Resources Conservatoin Service (NRCS) did a study with the Conservation Effects Assessment Project in 2016 to assess the reduction in fuel used in different tillage systems. From their results they found using a chisel plow, resulted in 1.1 gallons/acre of diesel fuel used, a field cultivator used 0.74 gallons/acre of diesel fueled used, and a no-till planter used 0.44 gallons/acre of diesel fueled used. If farming 500 acres and diesel fuel is $4.30, that would result in $3,311 to chisel plow then plant the cash crop; $2,537 to field cultivate then plant; and $946 to no-till plant.

     That is only one pass with the tillage implement. If a producer chisel plowed in the fall, then field cultivated in the spring, then planted, it would cost $4,902 just for diesel fuel. To convert to no-till from that system would result in a 79.5 percent reduction in diesel fuel cost. The leftover $3,956 could help cover costs in the operation elsewhere. This example doesn’t include the wear and tear on your equipment, either.

     Iowa State University did a 16-year study over the long-term effects of no-till versus tillage and found corn yields were comparable in both systems, and no-tilled soybean yields were equal or some years even outperformed tillage systems.

     The research shows a reduction of $15-30/acre in input costs with no-till compared to conventional tillage systems (chisel plow, deep rip, and moldboard plow). That study was from 2018 and still showed a larger savings cost than the example above. No-till can have similar yields and reduce in inputs, not to mention increasing efficiency of nitrogen use! Ohio State University found “a 10 percent improvement in certain soil health measurements increased relative yields by an average of 5 percent across nitrogen fertilizer rates. In other words, good soil health means getting more bang for every buck spent on fertilizer.

     These economics are just the starting point of the benefits of converting to full no-till. The largest savings costs only occur after no-till is implemented. These savings include keeping your soil in place (eroded soil is something you can’t get back), organic matter has a chance to build back up, and with that an increase in your soil’s water holding capacity and ability to hold more nutrients, reduction in compaction, increase in root penetration, and increase the efficiency of nitrogen use for your plant.

     These trends lead to your plants and the soil to be more resilient to weather extremes like floods and droughts; how can you beat mother nature? Not to mention the safe home you’d be creating for the soil microbes. When it comes to soil microbes, improving nitrogen use efficiency is linked to soil biology and the cycling of organic matter. That’s just a small part microbes play in improving the soil, there is so much more and is for another time.

     Fight against increased fertilizer, pesticide, and fuel prices by improving your soil and allowing it to start working on its own without having to add so many inputs. The result: more money in your pocket. Contact your NRCS office if you would like info on how to make the transition to no-till in your operation.

     (Ag editor’s note: This piece was submitted by the Jones Soil and Water Conservation District office.)



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