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Besides providing modest cuts in production expenses, the expanded acreage of no-till in northwestern Ohio is boosting farm productivity and reducing pollution concerns.
These are the results of a study done among farmers who changed cropping practices over the past two decades on land in the Maumee and Sandusky watersheds that drain into Lake Erie. About 15 percent of the acreage was being cropped with conservation tillage practices in the mid-1980s and it reached 50 percent of the ground 10 years later. During the same period, pollution levels in the two watersheds were cut from 5 to 50 percent in the area.
Ohio State University ag economist Lynn Foster calculated that farmers using conservation tillage are saving 2 to 8 percent on labor costs and 6 to 15 percent in machinery operating costs, depending on the crop mixes and soil types.
With no-till, Foster found fixed costs per acre decreased substantially because of lower equipment investment and the ability to crop larger acreages. While no-till led to a 10 to 18 percent increase in herbicide costs, Foster says the reduced equipment investment far outweighed the increased chemical costs.
While the calculated savings per acre seemed modest, Foster says they are often magnified because no-till technology is labor saving and allows no-tillers to crop more acres. As a result, bigger operations were associated with more profitable and less-polluting farming practices.
Inspired by a 1978 water quality agreement between the U.S. and Canada, federal…