Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the McPherson Sentinel.
Saving time and fuel and building soil structure are the main reasons why about 20% to 30% of McPherson County, Kan., farmers are using no-till on their farms.
“Each system has its pros and cons. No-till’s no different,” McPherson County extension agent Dale Ladd says. “There’s not a huge difference in cost per acre. Conventional tillage and no-till are both profitable.
"No-till is steadily growing as the younger generation takes over and more acres are added per farm. It will only grow.”
No-till allows farmers to have less tillage work, less equipment and consume less fuel, Ladd says. On the other hand, no-till planters are more expensive and no-till requires more herbicides.
“Most adopt no-till for the time and fuel savings. Most of them feel strongly about conservation,” says Baron Shively, National Resource Conservation Service district conservationist.
One of the big advantages to no-till is seen during dry years.
“Crops have more staying power during dry conditions,” Ladd says. “When it’s dry, no-till soil takes on water more readily.”
Producers using no-till have also cut their soil erosion rate by half and sometimes more, Shively says.
“The long-term benefits take 5 to 6 years before they see improvements in their soil structure. The higher organic content holds the soil together,” he adds.
It also allows farmers to expand without having to hire any extra help simply because the amount of field work is reduced.
“Some of them switch for the time savings,” Shively says. “It’s difficult to get good help. It makes it easier to expand.”
An aspect of no-till that discourages some farmers to switch is its need for increased weed control, Shively says. Some area farmers have even seen some resistance to some herbicides, which “doesn’t help their bottom line when they have to buy a new herbicide,” Shively says.
No-tillers have to rotate crops to discourage weeds and diseases from establishing in a field.
“No-till forces them into a rotation, but once they get into it they like that concept,” Ladd says.
Jim Nelson of Windom, Kan., switched to no-till in 2000 after a neighbor introduced him to it. He then sold all his tillage equipment and bought a no-till drill. He now no-tills 1,850 acres and doesn’t see it any other way.
“Once you get into it, you’ll never go back,” Nelson says.
No-till gave Nelson something new and challenging to experience with farming.
“I was getting tired of the old way of being on a tractor all day,” Nelson says. “Once I got into it, I found it was really challenging and exciting. Every day is a new challenge and I look forward to trying something new.”
Nelson rotates planting wheat, milo and beans. Nelson also takes advantage of the ability to plant double-crop beans right after wheat harvest.
Nelson has seen soil erosion cut down “considerably,” reduced his fuel use by 67% and built up his organic matter from 2.1% to 2.4%.
“My yields have gone up. I’m not beating anyone in the county on wheat yields, but I’m still happy with it,” Nelson says.
Nelson believes that he, along with other no-tillers, are more cutting edge.
“We always strive for something better,” Nelson says. “We (as farmers) always try to figure out the problem and try to do it better.”
Daryl Larson of McPherson, Kan., started switching to no-till in 2004 and is now 99% no-till. The two biggest things Larson has seen is fuel savings and moisture conservation.
“There’s been some issues,” Larson says. “If the ground is wet, you have to have patience and wait for the right conditions.”
During dry years, Larson has seen better yields because the soil doesn’t dry out as fast.
The biggest cost for Larson was the initial costs to buy the planting equipment. He has spent money on chemicals, but saved on fuel.
“It (buying the planter) takes a chunk out of crops’ profit the first few years,” Larson says.
Larson says he feels like he is doing his part on cutting down air pollution. No-till has allowed Larson to farm a “few more” acres and become more active in the agriculture community.
“I have more free time to enjoy different things in life,” Larson says.
Larson agrees that crop rotation is extremely important. He would like to have one more crop to rotate. Next year, he hopes to try radishes to add more organic matter to his soil.