Even though the conservation and environmental benefits of no-tilling are likely reason enough to consider switching tillage practices, many farmers still want to know if it will pay off economically.

One way of placing a dollar value on no-till is to look at the potential savings based on custom-farming rates. Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University ag engineer, says analyzing custom rates can allow farmers to quickly calculate the cost difference between no-till and intensive-tillage practices.

Save $10 To $20 Per Acre

The students in one of Reeder’s machinery management classes determined that Ohio growers could save $10 to $20 an acre each year by using no-till rather than conventional tillage.

“Farmers usually have only one set of data to work with, which is the practice they currently use on their farm,” he says. “So they lack needed information about the economics of an alternative farming practice.

“Using custom rates offers a nice guide for determining the cost difference between two different production systems. If a farmer chisel plows and wants to switch to no-till, looking at custom rates can give them a good indicator of the potential savings that can be earned by shifting tillage systems.”

Besides eliminating moldboard plowing and other spring tillage, growers may also be able to eliminate the need for their largest-horsepower tractor by shifting to no-till.

The Ohio custom rates show a cost of about $14 per acre for chisel plowing and $10 to $12 per acre for secondary tillage. However, some of the extra costs associated with no-till, such as an extra pass to spray herbicides, will cancel out part of the tillage savings earned.

Less Yield, More Profit

Reeder says the results that his students came up with are similar to data that University of Wisconsin researchers used to calculate the cost savings with no-till. The Wisconsin data indicated that a grower could take as much as an 8-bushel-per-acre yield loss with no-till corn and still earn as much profit as chisel plowing.

“An age-old question is that if it saves money, why isn’t everybody doing it,” Reeder says. “Most farmers feel they lose too much yield in no-till corn, at least in the first few years.

“But even with a small yield reduction, no-tillers can still come out ahead economically.”

So along with reduced soil erosion, improved soil quality, stored carbon and other benefits, look for more growers to shift over to no-tilled corn as they look for new ways to save dollars and become much more efficient.