I've been toying with the idea of selling my chisel plow and going no-till. With corn prices seemingly headed for lower ground, I've got to do something radical to fix my cost structure. I have neighbors who no-till successfully so I'm confident I can make it work on my ground. Should I change all at once or try it over a three-year period? — E.G., South Dakota
Radically improving the cost structure of crop farming is on everybody's mind, and while next season's decisions are a long ways off, you're prudent to come up with the strategy now.
"Going no-till" is the easiest way to shave costs, but the savings may not be enough. With an initial (not long-term) yield drag after switching to no-till, be careful in calculating the net effect in profitability.
Besides saving fuel, for machine and repair costs to come down, you have to unload some iron. Getting rid of a sizable tractor payment or selling a few pieces to add cushion to your working capital are very attractive options while crop prices are depressed.
In an ideal world, we should all be no-tilling and planting cover crops. These practices are extremely dependent on geography and soil type. The technology is available today for a farm-by-farm tillage script. Similar to planting scripts, you are much more qualified to decide maximum economic yield and best management practices on tillage operations than a computer a few states away.
We prefer fall-prep strip till as a compromise to strict no-till due to the precise nutrient placement, residue management and improved soil planting seedbed. Spring-prep strip till for corn on corn has been disastrous in our area due to the wet May.
The initial switch to no-till can have a higher risk for your bottom line than the CBOT. Thus, a phase-in program that evaluates your different soil types would be prudent.
Jerry and Jason Moss operate Moss Family Farms Inc.