Farmers are thinking twice about working the earth this fall, thanks in part to record diesel prices, according to an article on Farm Progress.
The most recent data from the U.S. Energy Administration shows the price of No. 2 Diesel has decreased sharply since June (from $5.745 per gallon to $4.993 per gallon as of September), but it remains higher than the previous record high set in 2008 ($4.703 per gallon). These high prices have some farmers reconsidering whether to till.
“Diesel fuel was $4.99 per gallon locally at press time and seems to be continuing upward,” Amanda Kautz, district conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana, told Farm Progress. “A no-till cropping system uses, on average, fewer than 2 gallons of diesel fuel per acre. Conventional tillage systems consume over 6 gallons per acre. That is about a $20-per-acre reduction in fuel costs. Even if you aren’t ready for no-till, removing one tillage pass will result in fuel savings.”
In some cases, growers appear to be moving from conventional tillage to disking for their fields.
Of course, long-time no-tillers and strip-tillers are already out in front of fuel prices. Reduced fuel consumption as part of ending tillage have long been cited among the primary benefits of no-till.
Tom Stribling of Ashland, Ill., says he's no-tilled and strip-tilled since the 1990s, and that's helped reduce his fuel costs.
“The less tillage we do, we’re cutting down on trips, so it saves on diesel expense,” he says. “It works in our situation, and I’m glad we’re doing it. I think our ground’s gotten better. I’m happy with our yields, and we don’t need the deep tillage like we used to.”
“Fuel is an input that farmers buy — no different than nitrogen, phosphorus or herbicides,” says Jack Hardwick, agronomist with Nutrien Ag. “It has to be used to run everything on the farm, and so as a line item, if that input goes up significantly, people start wondering how to more efficiently manage that input.”