Strip-till saved Ed Hegland so much fuel that his fuel supplier thought he’d switched suppliers, says the Appleton, Minn., grower. “The switch from full-width tillage cut our fuel use roughly in half,” he says.

A Corn & Soybean Digest review of academic studies and various growers’ conservation-tillage transitions reveals significant fuel, labor and equipment cost savings. Added to the long-term benefits of better soil health and moisture management makes reduced tillage a winning financial and agronomic combination.

The Rulon Family, Arcadia, Ind., has no-tilled continually for 21 years. The spreadsheet wizards calculate a 12% cost savings over conventional tillage corn in their no-till continuous-corn operation ($3.81 per bu. no-till corn cost of production vs. $4.34 per bu. conventional tillage). They have documented every penny of their long-term no-till costs compared to conventional tillage. (Details at http://bit.ly/xk9K1I.)

A University of Illinois comparison of strip-till costs and “typical-till” found a 23% savings in combined tractor and implement overhead, fuel and labor costs, says Illinois Ag Economist Gary Schnitkey. The “typical-till” system uses a field cultivator for a secondary tillage pass before planting, and fields are chisel-plowed after corn harvest.)

 

35% fewer gallons

The Illinois strip- and no-till operations studied saved 35% in fuel gallons used over the typical-till (2.4 gal. per acre vs. 3.7 gal. per acre). In 2006, University of Illinois results indicated that the two low-till systems have about $19.05 per acre fewer costs and 1-2 gal. less fuel per acre use than the typical-till or deep-till systems. (For details please seehttp://bit.ly/AltTill). (Total 2012 costs average $62.88 per acre for strip-till and no-till and $49.06 per acre for no-till, while typical-till was $81.93 per acre.)

A 2011 Kansas State University comparison of 390 mixed tillage and 112 no-till operations in central Kansas found a 14-27% reduction in gas, fuel and oil costs among Kansas no-till farms compared to mixed-tillage operations. In addition, labor expense per acre was 12-23% lower for no-till farms than for mixed-tillage operations. In a longer-term study, no-till farms had a higher cost efficiency, lower per-unit costs, better labor- and capital-use efficiency and a higher operating profit margin ratio, according to study author Michael Langemeier, now with Purdue University. (See http://bit.ly/Pnyi7O).

For no-tiller Cameron Mills, Walton, Ind., fuel savings are as high as 40% over conventional tillage. “We’re down to a planter pass and a combine pass; it’s a no-brainer,” he says. He spends $23 per acre on cover crop seed and aerial application. (Mills is retrofitting his bean planter with an air seeder for double duty to blow crimson clover, winter peas, radishes and rye mixed cover-crop seed.)