No-tillage first began as an erosion control practice for Kentucky growers. Wheat was the last major grain crop to be widely accepted by producers as a no-till crop.
"For many years, only about 25% of the acreage was no-tilled," says Lloyd Murdock, University of Kentucky soils specialist. "However, the last 3 to 5 years, this percentage has increased greatly."
Murdock says responses to a survey taken at a recent wheat meeting where about 25% of the planted wheat acreage was represented indicated that 69% of the wheat was planted no-till. This is almost a three-fold increase from just a few years ago.
When asked what the main reason, nearly 29% said they use no-tillage for reduced labor requirements. Other answers included less machinery required at 16.7%; more timely planting at 16.7%; erosion control at 16.7%; increased profits at 11.9%; reduced stress at 4.8%; and increased yield of all crops at 4.8%.
Murdock says growers could only pick one response, so they had to pick the one that was most important to them.
"It appears that the main reason that farmer's no-till wheat is for the ease of management," Murdock says. "The practice allows them to manage this crop with less labor, machinery and stress at planting time. When you add these 3 responses, the total is 50%."
Murdock says timely wheat planting is a result of less labor, machinery and tillage passes over the field. When this 16.7% is added into the other three reasons, the combined total is 67%. According to Murdock, this means that two-thirds of the people planting wheat using no-tillage like being able to plant the crop in a timely manner with less labor, machinery and stress.
No-tilled wheat results in improved soil quality and reduced erosion, which over time, can increase yields of all crops grown on the fields, Murdock adds. These two benefits were identified as the most important by only 21.5% for the respondents.
Increased profit was most important to 11.9% of the respondents, indicating, Murdock says, that there is not much of an increased profit and/or it is secondary to the other benefits.
"It appears that no-tillage wheat is most helpful to producers because it helps with and reduces the demands of their day-to-day management at a busy time of the year," he says. "They see the benefits immediately and daily.
"While the longer-term benefits like less erosion, improved soil quality and improved yields on all crops are less visible and the benefits are only realized over a period of years. These benefits are just as important and probably recognized by the respondents but not as immediate and easy to see."