Strip-till and no-till tillage systems have lower fuel use and lower costs than typical-till and heavy-till systems, according to a University of Illinois (U of I) Extension report.

"Tillage adds about $9.50 in costs per acre and between one and two gallons of fuel use," says Gary Schnitkey, a U of I Extension farm financial management specialist, who co-authored the report with colleague Dale Lattz. "The economic advisability of adopting these reduced tillage systems depends on whether yield losses occur or pesticide costs are increased with their adoption."

Schnitkey says the report, "Costs and Fuel Use for Alternative Tillage Systems," was prompted by recent increases in fuel and new equipment prices. The full report can be read online at http://www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/manage/newsletters/fefo06_07/fefo06_07.html.

The report examines two systems that have little tillage and two systems that rely on tillage. The systems are:

Strip-till, a system with no tillage except for an application of anhydrous ammonia;

No-till, a system without tillage operations;

Typical-till, a system that uses a field cultivator to perform a secondary tillage pass prior to planting. In addition, a chisel plow operation is performed after harvest on land previously planted to corn, and;

Deep-till, a system that is like the typical-till system, except that the chisel plowing is replaced with v-ripping, a deeper operation than the chisel plow.

"Both the strip and no-till systems have estimated fuel use of 2.4 gal./acre. Both also have lower fuel use than the typical-till system," says Schnitkey. "Fuel use for the typical-till system is estimated at 3.7 gal./acre, 1.3 gal. higher than the strip or no-till systems. At a $2.50/gal. diesel fuel price, fuel use differences result in $3.25/acre higher costs for the typical-till than for strip-till or no-till.

"Deep-till has 4.0 gal. of fuel use per acre, 0.3 gal. higher than typical-till. Deep-till replaces a chisel plow under the typical system with a v-ripper. The v-ripper uses 1.7 gal./acre, 0.6 gal. higher than the estimated fuel use of 1.1 gal. for a chisel plow. The v-ripper is used on half the acres, resulting in the 0.3 gal. of higher fuel use for the heavy tillage system across all acres in the farm."

Schnitkey says that these fuel uses represent needs for field operations. In addition, farms use fuel for grain hauling and general use.

"Tillage systems can have impacts on fuel use, with systems that use less tillage having less fuel use," he says. "However, fuel use for tillage represents only a portion of fuel use on farms. Reducing fuel use in other areas may have more impact on total farm fuel use than tillage choice."

Schnitkey says farmers may want to consider evaluating the non-tillage fuel use operations as they consider ways to reduce costs.