Over 38 years, Fritz has converted new farms to “true no-till,” and says it takes two to five years to loosen up soils, reduce compaction and activate microorganisms and earthworms to fully realize no-till’s agronomic benefits. “One of my no-till rules is never to cut corners.”

On Hegland’s western Minnesota strip-till operation, reduced tractor power requirements also save him money. “I now have a MF 8680 front-wheel assist and a Deere 8120T tractor, so I don’t need the horsepower of a conventional-tillage operation,” he says. “We also save loads of time and money in fewer trips across the field and reduced and more precise fertilizer use without any yield compromise,” Hegland says of his 2008 move to strip-till on silty loam soils.

Three fewer trips across the field save western Minnesota grower Tim Koosmann roughly $30 per acre, compared to conventional tillage, he says. He switched to strip-till continuous corn three years ago after ridge-tilling rotated corn for 30 years. Saving money is secondary to having the best seedbed for continuous-corn yields, he says.

On heavier soils like Hegland’s and Koosmann’s, strip-till can overcome the hurdles of reduced tillage in corn, says Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Iowa State University professor of soil management. “But for soybeans, it does not pay to do any kind of tillage, regardless of soil type,” he says of 10 years’ research across eight locations and many soil types.

“Profitable conservation tillage comes down to how much land you can farm by spreading out the planting and harvesting workload, and not spending resources on tillage,” says Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension engineer who’s worked with no-till for 34 years. “Parking the tillage tools and extending the planting and harvest seasons doubles or triples the number of acres one farmer can farm with the same equipment.” For example, he knows a central South Dakota farmer who seeds over 8,500 acres of eight different crops and about 3,000-5,000 acres of cover crops each year using one tractor, a planter, an air seeder, one combine and two operators. “The harvest season for eight different crops is several months long. On a per-acre basis, that’s not much for equipment and labor,” Jasa says.