Hello. My name is John and I'm addicted to tillage.

After attending the Minnesota Conservation Tillage Conference that our magazine helps sponsor, I'm starting to believe some farmers are, indeed, obsessed with tillage.

Of course you'd expect anyone coming from a conservation tillage meeting to be a bit anti tillage. Still, the statistics and research strongly point toward reducing tillage to improve soil structure — and to cut input costs.

According to the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), there's been a slow and steady growth in no-till/strip-till for many years.

The latest official national CTIC tillage survey was conducted in 2004. In a 10-year period from 1994 to 2004, it found a 14% increase in conservation tillage on soybeans, and a 3% decrease in corn acres. However, in the last five years Illinois, Indiana and Iowa all have increased conservation tillage on both corn and soybean acres.

Ohio State University (OSU) research shows at least similar yields with no-till/strip-till as you'd get with conventional tillage, but with considerably fewer input costs, says Randall Reeder, OSU ag engineer.

According to Palle Pedersen, former Iowa State Extension soybean specialist, tools such as seed treatments, postemergent herbicides and better genetics are available today to help minimize the risk of no-till practices. Still, he says the “cosmetic satisfaction” of tillage is often overruling the economics of no-till practices.

“A plowed field shows nice green rows, but with no-till you can't see that plant emergence right away,” he says. The costs for seeing those green plants on a solid black soil aren't cheap.

GEFF FITZER, LUVERNE, MN, has been strip-tilling for eight years and uses less labor and less fuel than he did with conventional tillage, yet gets similar yields. “Weed pressure has really backed off, too, probably because I'm not disturbing the soil,” he says.

Tom Oswald from Cleghorn, IA, has been continuous no-till since 1999 and has no plans to stop. He particularly likes the condition of his soil after years of no-tilling. “Mother Nature is a no-tiller,” he says. “I don't even worry about heavy grain cart tracks because the soil structure with no-till is so good it can carry heavier loads without compaction problems.”

Conservation tillage could be the ticket for you. Find out the pluses and minuses in your area and start small. Cutting those input costs associated with conventional tillage could mean the difference between profit and loss.