Slash Costs by Cutting a Pass Across the Field

Eliminating a tillage pass this year saves more than fuel (which can cut fuel costs $2 to $7 an acre). Employing this strategy not only boosts equipment longevity (fewer hours on tractors, less wear on soil-engaging components, etc.) but also hands you a time and labor bonus.  

The University of Illinois calculates machinery costs that include fuel, labor, and overhead expenses including depreciation, interest, insurance, housing, and repairs. All costs are based on buying new machinery and owning machinery for 10 years.

Their estimates for field cost by operation are as follows:
• Chisel plow: $12.70 per acre.
• Disk ripper (with a rolling basket): $25.70
• Vertical tillage (with a rolling basket): $11.70
• Moldboard plow: $29.80
• Mulch tiller (disk and chisel combination): $21.40
• Offset disk: $14.70
• Strip tillage: $16.70
• V-ripper (shanks only): $22.50
• Field cultivator: $9.90
• Mulch finisher (disk, chisel, and drag harrow): $15.40
• Tandem disk: $12.60 

You can access Illinois’ costs estimates by going to https://farmdoc.illinois.edu/handbook/field-operations.

A good way to start is by eliminating tillage before soybean planting, says Mark Hanna, retired Iowa State University engineer. A multiyear research project conducted by Iowa State University across that state has shown that soybeans don’t respond much – if at al – to tillage.

“Some people are tilling ahead of soybeans and have production costs that aren’t getting paid back,” Hanna points out.

You should also consider reducing secondary tillage. “Do you need to do more than one secondary tillage pass? Or, do you really need that pass at all?” asks Hanna. Another thing to look at is how deep you are tilling and if you really need to go that deep. 

If you are considering eliminating or reducing tillage before corn, it will take extra management. “It makes a bigger difference on how you have your planter set up, if you have row cleaners, and how you feel about planter adjustments,” says Hanna.

For example, based on the University of Illinois estimates, switching to using a disk ripper for primary tillage followed by passes by a tandem disk and field cultivator costs $48.20 per acre. This compares to $27.10 per acre switching to vertical tillage for primary tillage followed by a mulch finisher.

READ MORE: 20 Strategies That Farmers Can Use In 2020

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