Farm Manager's notebook: The right time for no-till?

Farm Manager's notebook: The right time for no-till?

When looking for new ways to fix cost structure for the farm business, is no-till a decent option?

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.

Looking for new ways to fix cost structure for the farm business – is no-till a decent option?

"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.

More Farm Manager's Notebook
Should we sell farmland?
What's our farm transition plan?
Reasonable cash rents ahead?

Jerry and Jason Moss operate Moss Family Farms Inc.

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