“You can’t no-till because you haven’t buried your father yet,’’ is how one farmer explains the forces shaping tillage decisions, quoting a local saying. “You can’t take on an endeavor like this with someone leaning over your shoulder every day telling you you’re wrong and it’s not going to work,” he adds.
How powerful an influence is this, compared to landlord feedback, pest concerns and delayed planting? I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Is the risk of bucking the norm too great, with neighbors looking on, and weather crazier than ever? Is it just dang hard to sit on your hands in the spring for the soil to dry out?
Purdue’s Tony Vyn, agronomy professor and champion of no-till and strip-till for over 30 years, has heard more rational reasons for not jumping into reduced tillage, aside from possible planting delays: the potential for higher herbicide expense, the investment in seed and nutrient placement equipment, and disease and pest concerns like slugs, northern corn leaf blight and diplodia.
And then we have landlord feedback as a considerable influence of course.
The economic gains for strip till over conventional tillage are $26 per acre ($130 versus $156), according to farmer, economist and MBA Brian Watkins’ model Cropzilla, he says. The model is a farmer planning tool to model an operation. Full tillage needs to deliver an extra 17 bushels over no-till to pay for itself compared to no till. His model finds that strip-till saves the Kenton, Ohio, 7,000-acre farmer $26.85 per acre over conventional tillage, but costs him $10.15 per acre more than no-till. Strip-till saves $5 per acre in fuel (when diesel was $3) over conventional tillage but $10.15 per acre more over no-till, the model finds.
Of course there’s never one reason why anyone would make such a massive change as tillage systems.
I wonder why there were so many Eastern U.S. no-tillers at a recent no-till conference; why were they so well represented when they get so much more rain than the Corn Belt? They’ve experienced more severe soil erosion losses due to their extra rainfall and have somewhat warmer climates than the north-central Corn Belt is my best guess.
Sure, reducing tillage is “a massive paradigm shift,” as conservation evangelist Ray Archuleta, NRCS agronomist, says.
Is it too unreasonable to consider even just one field of strip-till or no-till, if you save roughly $15 per acre, and each 1% of soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre?
Tell me what influences your decisions; I’d like to hear from you. I’m at [email protected].