While no-tilling results in dividends for soil conservation, it's the bottom line on his financial sheet that convinced Doug McLaughlin to adopt this method to sow his crops.
“It’s the cheapest way for me to get my crop in the ground,” the former Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, dairy farmer says.
McLauglin, who now concentrates on producing corn, grains and silage, experimented with a few acres of no-till corn 2 years ago, availing himself of the Kings County Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s (KCSCIA) no-till corn planter. In 2009, he planted all of his corn and grain by no-till.
“My yields have been as good as with conventional tillage and my costs have been lower,” he says.
McLaughlin found that no-till eliminates the need for plowing and harrowing (two or threefield trips), which cuts down on the amount of fuel used and the time needed to carry out the operations — saving the farmer money. A heavier specialized planter is needed to slice through the ground, drop a seed in and cover it.
McLaughlin has looked at buying his own no-till equipment, but he does not grow enough grain to justify the cost. For now, using the KCSCIA’s corn planter and a grain planter that is available to area growers serves him well.
He is not alone in choosing the option. Kier Miller, who operates the Soil and Crop corn planter, has a waiting list for his grain drill that he rents out to others in the Sussex area.
The Kings County group bought a corn planter several years ago to promote no-till. Twenty-five acres of no-till corn were planted the first year.
“We are up in the 600-to-700-acre range now per year and that’s just with our corn planter,” Miller says.
Two farmers who initially used the Club’s planter have since bought their own equipment. Tallying in their acres, he estimated there is close to 1,500 acres of no-till corn in the area.
At one time, the New Brunswick Soil and Crop Improvement Association owned a no-till grain drill but decided to put it out to tender and a regional soil and crop association in another area of the province presented the successful bid. Miller had been using that drill.
“When it left, I still wanted to plant my grain no-till, so I purchased one through the assistance that was available through the Federal/Provincial Land Stewardship Program, which required completing an Environmental Farm Plan.”
Miller stressed no-till also plays a role in the mitigation of climate change through reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Fields managed with no-till are believed to release less carbon to the atmosphere.
While he recognizes the positive environmental impacts of no-till management, Miller, like McLaughlin is most impressed with its affect on his bottom line.
”The cost benefit is phenomenal,” he says.
Walter Brown, crop development officer with the NB Department of Agriculture in Sussex, prepared a cost analysis on Miller and McLaughlin’s experiences.
In 2008, Brown looked at McLaughlin’s cereal grain production, comparing 122 acres of no-till to 29 acres planted by conventional methods. He calculated fuel, labor and equipment costs associated with the elements of each process.
There was no difference in manure spreading and fertilizer application. However, in terms of spraying, no-till had lower equipment costs per acre ($3.85 compared to $11.93) but higher overall costs per acre as his calculations were based on two applications for no-till and one for conventional tillage.
Brown found the total cost per acre for offset disc plowing to be $24.97, for harrowing (two times) $15.13 and for planting $64.12. No-till drill planting costs per acre totaled $87.91.
The overall total cost of no-till came to $282.41 compared to $292.23 for conventional tillage, a saving of about $10 per acre.