FORGET TILLAGE. Every tillage trip a neighbor makes across a field results in a loss of 1/2 inch of available soil moisture. Even seeding takes up to 1/3 inch of moisture loss.

Even With Drought, You’re Ahead Of The Game!

No-till delivers an extra 2 or 3 inches of soil moisture compared to tilled fields.

With a dry growing season anticipated in some areas, the big question is how limited soil moisture should affect your cropping plans.

Conservation Technology Information Center officials estimate no-tilled fields can store 2 or 3 inches more topsoil moisture than conventionally tilled fields. Since dry harvest conditions last fall left few ruts or compaction problems, no-till will let you turn what moisture there is into higher yields.

“I don’t think farmers should get lulled into a false sense of security by early rains,” says Jerry Hatfield, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames, Iowa. “We have a dry subsoil. The crop is going to go from rainfall to rainfall and rain is likely to be spotty. In most areas, the plants don’t have a soil moisture reserve to grow into. I’d urge guys to be cautious about working the ground too much, as just 1 inch of moisture saved by reducing or eliminating tillage could be worth 25 to 50 bushels of corn in the fall.

Hatfield says research data indicates 1/2 inch of water is lost every time a farmer tills in the spring. Another 1/4 to 1/3 inch of moisture is lost during planting.

Avoid Wet Fields

Even with dry soils, avoid no-tilling wet soils. This will increase compaction and restrict root development which can be very damaging in a dry season, indicates Bob Frazee, a University of Illinois natural resources educator.

To conserve season-long moisture, Frazee suggests no-tillers drill or…

To view the content, please subscribe or login.
 Premium content is for our Digital-only and Premium subscribers. A Print-only subscription doesn't qualify. Please purchase/upgrade a subscription with the Digital product to get access to all No-Till Farmer content and archives online. Learn more about the different versions and what is included.

Lessiter frank

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.

Top Articles

Current Issue


No-Till Farmer

Get full access NOW to the most comprehensive, powerful and easy-to-use online resource for no-tillage practices. Just one good idea will pay for your subscription hundreds of times over.

Subscribe Now

View More

Must Read Free Eguides

Download these helpful knowledge building tools

View More
Top Directory Listings