No-till production (Figures 1 and 2) is usually a “long term investment” to achieve the full benefits of increased soil health and return on investment. However, given the large input price increases within the past year, some may be asking the question “Can I no-till this fall to decrease my input costs?”. In typical Agronomist fashion, the answer is “it depends”. There are many things to take into consideration, and each person’s situation is going to be different; what might work for one person, may not work for the next person.
There are many management factors that need to be considered: crop residue management, crop rotation, equipment settings and availability, fertilizer management, and herbicide options. To successfully set up for no-till production, planning starts prior to harvest. Spreading residue evenly across the field is desirable, and this starts with proper distribution of the residue that comes from the combine. The even layer of residue in the field will help decrease soil erosion during the winter months and should start to break down to release nutrients and organic matter into the soil. Fertilizer and herbicide management options should be considered as well. Using preplant herbicides and fertilizers that do not require incorporation are important.
Planter settings are very important in a no-till field situation. A planter with properly adjusted row cleaners is needed to move the residue out of the seed furrow. Moving the residue out of the seed furrow helps increase the seed to soil contact which is needed to achieve good seed germination and emergence. Planting off set from the previous year’s row is also beneficial to decrease the amount of residue in the seed row, especially in a corn following corn situation. Seeding rates should be examined as well. It may be beneficial to increase your seeding rate by 5 to 10% to account for seed loss due to poor germination and vigor from the increased amount of residue.
Crop rotation is another important consideration. Generally, soybean yield isn’t influenced by tillage practices; however, corn yields can decrease in the short term when starting no-till practices. The previous crop has an impact on residue levels that affect corn emergence. Corn following soybean has less residue compared to corn following corn, which generally leads to a better corn stand following soybean. No-till fields in the spring may look a “little rough” compared to a tilled field; however, the no-till fields can look very good in August and September due to the potential increase in soil moisture retention during the early season.
Converting to no-till is a marathon, not a sprint. If converting all acres to no-till is the goal, taking it slowly by no-tilling a portion the first year may be a wise decision. This helps provide a learning curve for adjustments going forward. Once comfortable, the remaining acres can be converted to no-till production. If dabbling in no-till is of interest, no tilling soybean into corn stubble or no-tilling corn into soybean stubble may be the easiest options if residue management is a concern.
Al-Kaisi, M. 2018. Let’s talk no till. Integrated Crop Management News. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/cropnews/2018/10/lets-talk-no-till/.
Licht, M., and Clemens, Z. 2020. Plan for no-till soybean. Integrated Crop Management News. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/blog/mark-licht-zachary-clemens/plan-no-till-soybean/.
Long-term data reveals how no-till agriculture increases crop yields and environmental gains over the long haul. 2020. Kellogg Biological Station, Long-Term Ecological Research. Michigan State University. https://lter.kbs.msu.edu/2020/05/no-till-agriculture-increases-crop-yields-environmental-gains-over-long-haul/.
Web sources verified 6/16/22.