Driving ½ mile per hour slower in a field might not seem like it makes much a difference, but no-tiller Tim Norris of Gambier, Ohio, says slower speed comes with a cost.

Norris, named an Ohio Master Farmer, no-tills corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers. 1,400 of his 1,700 total acres planted in 2023 were no-tilled. He measures fuel usage and productivity by speed for each acre by analyzing 2 years of machine use data from corn harvest.

“Everywhere we’re going 2½-3 miles per hour, what’s my average fuel consumption?” Norris says. “It’s 1½ gallons per acre. If you go 4-4½ miles per hour, it’s 1.14 gallons per acre.”

He notes that the number of gallons per hour goes up when traveling at higher speeds, but more acres are being covered in that amount of time. He can cover 10.7 acres per hour at 4-4½ mph, while only doing 8½ acres per hour at 2½-3 mph.

When calculating costs of slower speeds, Norris used the following numbers:

• Fuel: \$3.50 per hour

• Combine Operator: \$35 per hour

• Combine: \$150 per hour

• Grain Cart Operator: \$25 per hour

• Cart and Tractor: \$75 per hour

This table shows the total cost/acre of four different speeds of harvesting. Going 2.5-3 mph costs \$38.69, 3-3.5 mph costs \$34.60, 3.5-4 mph costs \$30.94 and 4-4.5 mph costs \$30.54. This shows that the faster the speed, the cheaper it is per acre.

At these rates, the per-acre cost of labor, fuel and equipment cost are:

• \$38.69 at 2½-3 mph

• \$34.60 at 3-3½ mph

• \$30.94 at 3½-4 mph

• \$30.54 at 4-4½ mph

This table details the costs of going slower while harvesting. Going 2.5-3 mph costs \$8.15, 3-3.5 mph costs \$4.06, 3.5-4 mph costs \$0.40 and going 4-4.5 mph has no recorded cost. The slower the harvest, the higher cost.

Using these estimations, it costs an extra \$8.15 per acre to travel at 2½-3 mph instead of 4-4½ mph. Norris says there’s more to the cost of slower speeds than the numbers show.

“That doesn’t include that last load of grain that you didn’t get to town because the elevator closed and you weren’t able to unload it,” Norris says. “It doesn’t include not getting that field done, and you couldn’t move to the next farm and get an early start on it the next day. What about missed opportunities? By the time we harvest for other people, we really don’t have a whole lot of time left to plant cover crops.”