The Hidden Costs of Tillage Every year economic considerations are leading more growers across the South to convert to no-till and conservation tillage systems. After growers have tried a no-till or reduced-tillage system, they soon realize that there are many added costs associated with conventional tillage. Using a conventional tillage system requires significantly more trips across the field, which means an increase in time, labor, fuel and equipment costs. With reduced tillage systems, growers are saving money and improving moisture retention and soil quality, which eventually improves yields and makes fields easier to plant. Economic studies at several land grant universities are documenting that no-till can make a significant difference in the profitability of farmers in regions as diverse as Mississippi and Texas.

No-till significantly reduces labor costs and the amount of time required for preparing and planting a field. Under a conventional program with more intensive tillage, a grower may make as many as three to six trips across the field at planting time compared to just one trip in a no-till system. No-till drastically reduces the time required for preparing and planting a field. It can take up to 42 minutes per acre to conduct traditional or conventional tillage operations (disking, ripping, field cultivating and planting), compared to six minutes per acre for a no-till system. For a 1,000-acre farm, the overall time savings with no-till can add up to about 600 hours per season. With a no-till program, growers can farm more acres with the same or less labor.

Lower machinery investment is another economic advantage of no-till. No-till planters require one-third to one-half the horsepower needed to pull larger tillage implements. The largest tractor most no-till and conservation tillage farmers have is their planter tractor. No-till usually requires only one pass for planting, compared to as many as three to six tillage trips necessary prior to planting in a conventional tillage system. Fewer trips can save an estimated $5.00 per acre on machinery wear and maintenance costs. Some growers have reduced the amount of time they spend on the tractor by as much as 60 percent after switching to a no-till system. Plus, tractors involved in no-till or conservation tillage last longer.

Since no-till requires fewer trips across the field, no-till growers are also realizing a dramatic savings in fuel. This decrease in fuel costs is also related to the smaller horsepower tractors you can use in no-till that require less fuel. A no-till system typically saves an average of 3.5 gallons per acre. At $1.00 per gallon, that's a savings of $3,500 over 1,000 acres per year. If fuel prices are as high this growing season as they were last year, there will be even more incentive to eliminate tillage passes whenever possible.