As row crop-budgets tighten and producers cover more acres, it’s important to evaluate each field operation. Data from the Nebraska Farm Business Association indicates that two of the most important factors when evaluating the profitability of the members’ farming enterprises were yields and input costs. The high-profit third of the enterprises were above average on crop yields produced and below average on input costs.
Tillage practices and operations are continually changing over time as equipment changes and new systems are developed. Rising fuel costs can represent a significant portion of the typical crop production budget.
At a glance
• Stalk shredding is one operation that can be eliminated.
• Research shows less tillage won’t reduce yields.
• Eliminating disking can save nearly $10 an acre.
For this reason, it’s important that producers evaluate each tillage operation they make and determine if the benefits outweigh the costs or expense. By reducing the number of trips through the field, producers can save fuel and labor, and reduce machinery costs and wear.
There are numerous examples of producers reducing the number of tillage operations. Gross returns to crop production are related to yield. High yields, however, can be obtained with any of several well-managed tillage systems.
As producers have changed from conventional to reduced tillage, ridge-till or no-till, they’ve eliminated trips across the field, in many cases with no effect on yield.
For instance, what is the anticipated outcome of shredding stalks? If it’s intended to improve water distribution in furrow-irrigated acres, is it needed when irrigating with pivots?
Is it to improve planting by reducing the residue in the row? Research conducted by Paul Jasa, Extension engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has shown that if the planter is properly weighted and down pressure springs are used to keep the proper planting depth, there is no advantage to removing the residue. Attachments are available for the planter to handle the residue at planting time if need be.
Better yet, the combine can be used to process the residue at harvesttime and eliminate the need for shredding.
On-farm research has shown similar results. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, producers in the Quad County On-farm Research Group in south-central Nebraska compared shredding stalks prior to planting versus not shredding to see the affect on yields.
In 2003, one producer planted soybeans into a non-replicated plot and reported yields of 66 bushels per acre for strips that were shredded or stalk chopped, and 68 bushels per acre for strips that were no-tilled without shredding.
Another producer reported that soybeans no-tilled into corn residue reduced the number of trips across the field, but required more careful planting management because the soil stayed wetter longer when there weren’t any ridges. Planting speed also was slowed when planting into the no-till residue vs. ridges that had been cleared.
Quad County on-farm replicated plots in 2004 and 2005 compared strips where the cornstalks were shredded in the fall to those which were not. In this gravity-irrigated situation, yields for the strips that weren’t shredded were actually higher than those that were shredded in 2004 and just the opposite in 2005.
Another example of a reduced-tillage operation that is widely adopted is planting corn or grain sorghum directly into soybean residue rather than planting after tandem disking. By eliminating the disking, producers save $10 per acre plus
3/4-inch of water and leave more residue on the surface for soil and water conservation.
It is important to evaluate and analyze each tillage or field operation. Reducing operations can add to the producer’s bottom line by reducing fuel, labor and machinery costs. When properly managed, yields are maintained and often increase due to the improved timeliness of the remaining operations.
Zoubek is an UNL Extension educator in York County.
CUTTING COSTS: Save $10 an acre and 3/4-inch of moisture by eliminating disking.
This article published in the February, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.