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The Most Profitable Farm Practice Is…

Surveys say no-till is the management practice that produces the biggest dividends.

Published on: Dec 20, 2010

U.S. farmers have diverse views, but they agree on one thing. When we surveyed readers, no-till was the clear winner as the management practice that produced big dividends. And, we might add, the answers that carried the most passion.

"I would give up farming if I had to give up no-tilling," proclaims Gerald Skogen, Marion, Wis.

Farmers cited higher yields, moisture and land conservation, along with lower costs for fuel, labor and equipment. Skogen, for example, farms 1,400 acres by himself and also custom combines 1,500 acres along with 500 acres of custom planting. "I hire the spraying and hauling done, and sometimes hire a driver to plant about 100 acres of soybeans for me, otherwise I do all the work myself," he says. "There is no way I could do all that by myself if I didn't no-till. I only use about a half gallon of diesel fuel per acre for all the planting."

"We're able to do twice as much as we used to when my dad and I worked our butts off covering 2,000 aces," says Jeremy Wilson, 30, who has been no-tilling six years with his father Randy near Jamestown, ND. Today the Wilsons no-till 3,200 acres.

"No-till has been a great move for us on our farm," says Reggie Strickland, Mount Olive, NC. "We went from conventional till, to strip till, to 100% no-till over a six year period and have seen a great savings in time, labor, fuel, soil erosion, compaction and build up of organic matter. We would not be able to tend the acres we do in our operation without the use of no-till."

"The main benefit is improved drainage without installing additional tile," adds Robert Anderson, Darlington, Ind. "Where I had crop loss from water standing in ponds after rains, the water is now gone with no crop damage. This happens because no-till does not destroy the drainage channels created by night crawlers and the roots of previous crops."

Another benefit - one that is still out on the horizon - is that no-tillers may have a leg up on conventional tillers if a carbon trading marketplace gets established. They may also be ahead if retailer-driven sustainability policies push processors to buy commodities from more eco-friendly producers.

An intangible benefit for many farmers is long-term - something many think about when they ponder who will farm their land after them. "If I want to hand my farm off to my children someday I'd better not be depleting these soils," says Wilson.