Many farmers recognize that no-tilled ground is probably worth more than land farmed with more intensive tillage. Yet there’s little evidence that indicates no-tilled ground brings a premium price when a farm goes on the sale block.

About 18 months ago, we worked with a University of Kentucky ag economist to see if we could determine if a premium was being paid for no-tilled ground. We couldn’t find any land sales figures to back up this argument.

That’s why we were particularly interested in an article printed in Canada’s Western Producer magazine that covered a presentation at the 2012 Manitoba-North Dakota Zero Tillage Farmer’s Association annual workshop that documented the argument for increased land value for no-tilled ground.

Higher Yields, Fewer Inputs

Based on the concept that “good” land should be worth more than “poor” land, Jim Halford maintains ground where no-till has been practiced for 20 years or longer is superior to other agricultural land. Based on calculations from his Indian Head, Saskatchewan, farm, he argues that long-term no-tilled land should be worth $1,000 more per acre due to higher yields and fewer inputs compared to other ground,

Onfarm Research Data

Guy Lafond of Agriculture Canada’s Research Center at Indian Head has conducted numerous trials on Halford’s farm. He has compared land that has been no-tilled since 1978 with land where no-till began in 2001 for a two-crop rotation of canola and spring wheat with varying nitrogen rates.

Lafond found wheat and canola yields were substantially higher in long-term no-tilled plots at all levels of applied nitrogen. He attributes the yield difference to more organic carbon and increased nitrogen cycling in the long-term no-tilled fields.

“These results imply that long-term no-tilled soils provide more nitrogen to support crop growth during the growing season,” he says.

Less Fertilizer Needed

 “In our long-term improved soils, we haven’t used phosphorus on our wheat crop for the last 9 years,” he says. “I’m not advocating that you stop fertilizing, but maybe you don’t need quite as much and maybe you don’t need it every year.”

At 54 pounds of nitrogen, long-term no-tilled land produced 11.3 extra bushels per acre of wheat compared to short-term no-tilled ground. With $5.50 wheat, that’s $62.15 more net income per acre.

With 81 pounds of nitrogen, long-term no-till yielded 3.5 extra bushels per acre of canola. At $8.50, that’s an extra $29.75 per acre.

Halford also saves $8.10 per acre by cutting back on phosphorus .

$50 Per-Acre Returns

Based on this data, Halford says the yield benefits and nutrient savings on his long-term no-tilled land equals $50 per acre per year. Based on 20 years of no-till, he figures the benefits make this ground worth an extra $1,000 per acre