No-Till Adoption Slows Despite Soil Benefits

November 27, 2018 11:41 AM
According to USDA, farmers who grow soybeans and cotton are reducing the number of acres dedicated to no-till while corn and wheat no-till acres rise.

Though soil benefits from reduced tillage, some producers are turning away from the practice. According to USDA, farmers who grow soybeans and cotton are reducing the number of acres dedicated to no-till while corn and wheat no-till acres rise.


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A recent study by USDA’s Economic Research Service examined the frequency at which farmers use conservation tillage. Here are the study’s key findings:

  • Conservation tillage is used on 70% of soybean (2012), 65% of corn (2016), 67% of wheat (2017) and 40% of cotton acres (2015)
  • Percent of conservation tillage dedicated to no-till varied from 45% of total acreage in wheat (2017) and 40% of total soybean acreage (2012) to 18% of total acreage in cotton (2015) and 27% of total acres in corn (2016)
  • No-till varies by region at 34% of total corn acres in the Norther Great Plains, 49% in the Prairie Gateway and 53% in the South
  • Farmers will try no-till or strip-till but not many stick with it as 50% of crop acres were in one of these conservation practices at some point over a four-year period but only 20% of those stayed with the practice


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Despite negative trends in certain crops, many farmers are still seeing benefits from making the switch to reduced tillage. Notably, soil health benefits, weed control and others top the list of why farmers are switching. According to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, farmers should follow four basic principles to promote healthy soil: keep soil covered, reduce disturbance, keep living roots in the soil and diversify rotations and cover crops.

“Conservation tillage, which protects the soil by reducing soil disturbance and keeping the soil covered, is considered to be a key component of a soil health management system,” the agency states in a recent report.


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Spell Check

Somewhere, SD
11/27/2018 12:48 PM

  Farmers know best how to farm their land, they don't need the government or anybody else telling them how to farm. Farmers got to be flexible and adapt to the weather and ground conditions which requires tillage sometimes. Obviously the soil health is pretty good or farmers would not be growing record crops.

West Central, MN
11/27/2018 06:14 PM

  Our operation hasn't practiced conventional tillage of any kind since 1980. Our yields are usually right in line with all the neighbors, but we don't have the extra overhead of owning tillage equipment and the time it takes to do it. We can afford to take a bigger hit on yield in a bad year because our profit margin is better. Just because the government suggests something doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad idea. The proof is in our track record.

Margaret Braginetz
Aurora, CO
11/27/2018 07:32 PM

  Thank you, Joe, West Central, MN. Good to hear from someone using the brains God gave him. A good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it originates.