Published May 13, 2007 | By admin
Less Tillage Means More Dollars, Improved Environment
Julie Christensen with Univ of Minnesota Extension writes an informative article telling Northern Corn Belt farmers how economics play an important role in todays ecologically conscious world. Read on!
St. Paul, Minnesota (Spring 2007)–The environment and the bottom line both have a good chance of improving when farmers use conservation tillage. An example is strip tillage, which is establishing itself as an effective conservation tillage practice in Minnesota.
University of Minnesota research trials show that strip tillage has performed well in both a corn/soybean and corn-on-corn rotation in southwestern Minnesota. With strip tillage, a strip 7 to 9 inches wide is tilled, and crop residue from last year’s crop is maintained between rows. This reduces passes over the field, which means less energy is used. There’s also less erosion, compared to conventional systems.
We found that strip tillage maintained high residue levels between rows. Soil temperatures in the row, which affect seedling growth after planting, were similar to more aggressive tillage methods. Yields were also similar to the more aggressive tillage. Reduced trips across the field resulted in savings in time and money.
Management strategies need to be adapted to the tillage system. With strip tillage, that means staying on the row, clearing the row out well and using residue managers on the planter. The costs involved in switching systems are always a factor.
In the future, “Green payments” and carbon trading could significantly enhance the economics of conservation tillage. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and a major contributor to accelerated global climate change.
U of M research trials, in cooperation with Don Reicosky of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, measured the pounds of carbon lost from fall tillage in 2005. With moldboard plowing, carbon dioxide lost to the atmosphere within 24 hours after tillage was 579 pounds per ace. With strip tillage, only 106 pounds of carbon dioxide was lost per acre, or 18 percent of the moldboard plowing loss.
The more soil is tilled, the more carbon is released. Purdue University created the following “Top-10” list, detailing the benefits of conservation tillage:
10. Improved air quality. There’s less wind erosion (less dust). Fossil fuel emissions are reduced, and there’s less release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
9. More food and shelter for wildlife.
8. Improved water quality.
7. Reduced soil erosion.
6. More soil moisture is trapped to improve water availability to the crop.
5. Increased organic matter.
4. Improved soil tilth.
3. Reduced wear on machinery.
2. Less fuel is used.
1. More dollars for the farmer through reduced labor and time saved.
Julie Christensen, U of M Extension