More than 70 years ago, Ed Faulkner wrote on the opening page of his book, Plowman’s Folly, that, “no one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing.”
But there is still doubt among some growers on whether no-till can really work.
While many no-tillers are a testament to the practice’s success, two long-term tillage studies in Indiana and Illinois are also proving that no-till can hold its own or outperform other tillage systems, especially in unfavorable conditions.
Beck’s Hybrids Practical Farm Research (PFR) has been comparing no-till, conventional tillage and strip-till on its plots at its headquarters in Atlanta, Ind., since 1991. For the conventional tillage plots, researchers disc rip in the fall and make another pass with a finishing tool in the spring, while strips for the strip-till plot are made in the fall.
In the 24 years of data published (2016 results were not available as this issue went to print), PFR found no-till has provided an average 6-bushel yield advantage compared to strip-till and conventional tillage.
“I would say in most years, where you have an average rainfall, the differences between tillage systems aren’t very big,” says PFR agronomist Travis Burnett. “But in those drought years, there’s usually a pretty large advantage to the no-till system. That’s where the 6-bushel difference comes from.”
PFR has also been conducting a study comparing continuous corn yields between conventional tillage and no-till since 2004. On average, they’ve only seen a yield benefit of 1.6 bushels per acre…