Why No-Tilling Will Pay

Compared to conventional tillage, U.S. Department of Agricultural economists say, corn growers who follow a crop residue management (CRM) program not only minimize soil and chemical runoff but can sharply reduce costs.

While 87 percent of U.S corn farmers participate in farm commodity and environmental programs, only 30 percent farm highly erodible land. Yet 60 percent of all corn farmers are using CRM, even though many don’t do it to meet conservation compliance requirements.

Hefty Economic Returns

Jeffrey Hopkins, an Economic Research Service (ERS) economist, says CRM earned growers a premium of 73 cents per dollar of output cost when all costs are considered. He calculated corn production costs as the sum of the value of all purchased inputs along with opportunity costs associated with land, capital and labor. Since it represents all tillage systems that leave at least 15 percent crop residue on the soil surface, the benefits should be even higher for no-till.

Hopkins determined that farmers using CRM grew an average of 122 more acres of corn than growers practicing “clean tillage.” Yields averaged 10 bushels per acre higher with CRM. In a survey of 1,544 corn producers, Hopkins found that 33 percent of CRM users had used no-till while only 20 percent of nonadopters had ever no-tilled.

He says the major gaps in economic efficiency occur not only between adopters and nonadopters, but also between the lowest- and highest-cost farms. This is mainly due to differences in management abilities and growing conditions.

Agricultural engineers estimate that…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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