I recently came upon an article from South Dakota State University Extension that seems to cast doubt, once again, on arguments that no-till doesn’t work well in colder, wetter climates.

In 2017, both the corn and soybean yield contests in South Dakota offered specific categories based on tillage practices. Written collaboratively by Anthony BlySara Berg and David Karki, this article found that no-tilled or strip-tilled corn and no-tilled soybeans can yield competitively with conventionally tilled crops, and that some of the major successes were in places where no-till is less popular.

  • In the soybean contest sponsored by the South Dakota Soybean Assn. and South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, overall average no-till soybean yield was only 1.93 bushels less than the tilled category. The tilled entries gave more yield in the maturity group 0 and I categories, while the no-till entries had more yield in maturity groups II and III.
  • In the 2017 corn yield contest sponsored by South Dakota Corn and the National Corn Growers Assn., the overall average for the no-till category was 8.9 bushels greater than the tilled category. No-till/strip-tilled corn averaged 275 bushels to 266 bushels for tilled corn.

Bly points out that no-till is used on 45% of South Dakota cropland, according to the 2017 South Dakota Cropping Systems Inventory. The eastern 25% of South Dakota has not fully adopted no-till, with less than 25% of the area under no-till, even though growers have demonstrated success with the practice.

All but two no-till entries for both corn and soybeans were from the eastern 25% of South Dakota, which has the lowest rate of no-till adoption, he points out. “Last year’s yield contest winners showed strong evidence that when managed properly, no-till and conservation cropping systems are very successful in the eastern regions of South Dakota,” Bly wrote.

After seeing these results, it would be interesting to know why so many growers in eastern South Dakota are sticking with tillage, especially with the tools available today to help make no-till or strip-till succeed. Is it concern over ‘cold and wet’ soils? Is it the increase in acres going to corn that has driven this?

Old habits sometimes die hard, and it’s unfortunate those who no-till successfully aren’t being heard. At the National No-Tillage Conference earlier this this past January we had speakers from Minnesota, Ontario and New York share how they’re succeeding not just with no-till but using cover crops as well.

Keep an eye out for our coverage of these speakers’ efforts as No-Till Farmer is published in print and online throughout the year.