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Switch to no-till with pivot irrigation can cut water costs $20 to $30 per acre

There is some relief to the high cost of fuel and the restricted access to water. Try switching to no-till.

The potential savings are huge, ranging from $13 to $23 per acre just in irrigation energy savings. Calculate in the fuel savings from cutting a couple trips across the field by no-tilling and you can pocket another $5 to $10 per acre.

The savings from switching to no-till become huge when they are accompanied by a switch from furrow to center pivot irrigation. That move combined with a switch to no-till cuts irrigation needs by up to half, promising a quick payoff from an investment in a center pivot.

Randy Pryor from the University of Nebraska says numerous field trials prove that switching to no-till under pivot irrigation can save 3 to 5 inches of water compared to conventional tillage.

Pryor borrowed from these field tests and used a cost spreadsheet named Irrigcost.xls to calculate average irrigation costs based on:

  • Irrigating 130 acres.
  • Pumping water from 125 feet.
  • Using a system pressure of 35 psi.
  • Diesel costs at $2.47 per gallon.
  • Drip oil costs at $3.47 per gallon.
  • Operator labor at $12.00 per hour.

In this example, the annual operating cost (repairs, operator labor, and energy) for each inch of water applied is $6.70 an acre. With no-till farming and a savings of 3 to 5 acre-inches of irrigation water, the annual operating cost savings range from $20.10 per acre to $33.50 per acre. Pryor points out that the energy cost alone in this example for each inch of water applied is $4.62 per acre. This calculates out to a direct irrigation energy savings range of $13.86 per acre to $23.10 per acre when going to no-till.

One noneconomic benefit of switching to no-till is a reduction in soil erosion both from spring rains and irrigation. Plus, Pryor points out, leaving residue on the soil surface can reduce evaporation significantly during the growing season. No-till soils are prone to absorb water faster than tilled surfaces.

To estimate your irrigation costs, employ the Irrigcost.xls spreadsheet by going to the University of Nebraska's website.

There is some relief to the high cost of fuel and the restricted access to water. Try switching to no-till.

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