With the drought having a major impact on yields and profits in many areas this year, farmers who no-till likely banked more dollars than neighbors using more intensive tillage practices.
While no-till certainly wasn’t a cure-all for a severe lack of summer moisture, many readers of this publication saw numerous profit-building benefits to this system in a limited-rainfall situation.
In late September, we emailed a survey to farmers that receive the twice-monthly No-Till Farmer E-Tip e-newsletter. Some 163 growers responded with comments on how no-till performed under this summer’s drought conditions. (See Page 72 for more on no-till and the drought.)
When asked about the impact of no-till on 2012 yields compared to more intensive tillage systems used by other farmers in their area, 69% expected higher yields. Another 26% did not anticipate any yield differences, while 5% felt no-till would likely end up reducing yields by a few bushels compared to other tillage systems.
Looking at income, 84% of the farmers indicated no-till would increase profits per acre this year compared to other more intensive tillage systems.
Some 12% expected no difference in profit among various tillage systems used in their areas while 4% say no-till would trim profits to some extent.
27 Bushels More Corn
Among farmers that expected increased yields with no-tilled corn under drought conditions, the average yield boost was 27 bushels per acre when compared with more intensive tillage systems. These farmers estimated no-till would earn them an additional profit of $125 per acre.
With no-tilled soybeans, the average yield increase was 7.5 bushels per acre among farmers that expected higher yields. These farmers hoped to bank an additional $95 profit per acre from the benefits of using no-till in a very dry season.
Among wheat growers that credited no-till with boosting 2012 yields, the average increase was estimated at 12 bushels per acre. These farmers expected to earn an extra $58 of profit per acre with no-till.
For those 5% of growers who felt no-till would reduce 2012 yields compared with more intensive tillage systems, the average yield loss was expected to be 14 bushels per acre for corn, 11 bushels for soybeans and 25 bushels for wheat.
Saves Valuable Moisture
Some 81% felt no-till helped them preserve more soil moisture in this year’s drought conditions than neighbors who used conventional or minimum-tillage systems.
The no-tillers who responded to our survey credited increased soil moisture, more consistent weed control, better plant health, bigger root mass and more efficient moisture intake as major reasons for their crops performing better under drought conditions.
Some readers credited mellower soils built up over the years through no-till with the development of deeper root systems that led to more efficient water usage last summer. They also credited crop residue with helping retain soil moisture and resulting in cooler soil-surface temperatures that improved water infiltration during extremely hot afternoons.
Growers who double-cropped soybeans after wheat felt no-till was a major factor in getting the bean crop germinated and growing in less-than-ideal moisture conditions. Others credited cover crops with making better use of available moisture while improving the soil structure.
No-Till Works Every Year
While the 2012 drought was much more severe than normal, some farmers indicated no-till helps them overcome high heat and drought conditions nearly every year.
They pointed out that their no-tilled fields are always among the last in their area to show signs of reduced moisture and lower yields due to unfavorable weather conditions. In most years, these no-tilled fields are able to hang on longer than tilled fields while suffering from a lack of moisture until the rains finally arrive.
As many readers indicated, no-till did much better than more intensive tillage with this year’s drought. Once again, no-till proved its worth in many areas that suffered from disappointing weather conditions last summer.