Jeff Pape watches input costs like a hawk, pouring over every nickel spent on his Dyersville, IA, no-till operation. That's what drove him to figure out a way to cut back on not just tillage, but fertilizer applications and planting, too.

“I was looking for a way to get fertilizer and planting down to one pass,” says Pape, who farms 650 acres of his own ground and custom farms 1,400 acres; half to soybeans, half to corn. Pape uses a 12-row, 30-in. planter, then later lowers interplant units for 15-in. soybean rows.

Five years ago he traded his Kinze 3600 planter for a new Kinze 3650 with liquid tanks and started modifying it to solve his one-pass dilemma. “I changed to IH depth wheels for compaction reasons, then added John Deere nitrogen (N) coulters with depth wheels,” Pape explains. “Then I put on Keeton seed firmers, Martin trash whippers and spiked closing wheels, followed by drag chains that smooth out the soil. I get excellent seed placement and seed-to-soil contact.

“The planter came with fluted no-till coulters, but I took them off because it works better without them,” he says. “If I hit a rock or tough trash, the whole row unit used to come out of the ground twice, once for the coulter and again for the disk openers, misplacing seeds each time. The openers are sharper than most single coulters.

“With the John Deere fertilizer coulters, I get better depth control and they disturb the soil less. Plus, they cut through the trash well,” Pape says. The rebuilt units ran $400/row.

He runs zero down pressure on the spiked closing wheels. “If the ground is hard, like clay or hay ground, then I put on a little down pressure. The closing wheels fracture the soil side wall and close the trench,” he says.

MOUNTED ON TOP of the planter are four, 150-gal. liquid fertilizer tanks used to place 5 gal./acre of 6-24-6 pop-up fertilizer. “I place the pop-up starter just ahead and directly under the seed in the bottom of the V-trench instead of on top. I do that by using stainless-steel tubes we added just ahead of the seed tube. This year we're running a plastic flexible tube down the stainless to help keep it from plugging.”

He pulls a 1,600-gal. tank behind with N and a thiosulfate mixture, which gets placed 4 in. beside the row and 4 in. down. He uses 80 units/acre of N on soybeans and 140 units on corn. “I bought the shoes from a local guy and just mounted them. I save 20 units of N/acre by banding in the no-till strip,” Pape says.

When it comes to no-till, Pape is almost an evangelist, singing its praises. “When you see a 6-ft.-deep soil pit and still have the roots and even earthworms, you know it's working,” he says. “I've been no-tilling for 12 years and I get yields that equal anything in the area with conventional tillage.”

His one-pass no-till planting program is especially valuable from a fuel standpoint. “On one farm the fuel I used before no-till was unreal. I used to chisel plow, field cultivate, then plant — and it took 4 or more gal./acre. Now with my one-pass system I'm down to ½ gal./acre,” he says. With gas at $4/gal. and 4 gal./acre, it cost him $16/acre. But at ½ gal./acre, it's a measly $2/acre — a savings of $12/acre. And with his hilly ground he says there's almost no erosion.

Cost for the total system that allows him to make one pass — including new planter and all the changeouts — ran $85,000-90,000.