Eliminate One Field Operation, Save $8-$10 an Acre
November 17, 2008
Gary Zoubek, Extension Educator
As row crop budgets tighten and producers cover more acres, it's important to evaluate each field operation. Data from the Nebraska Farm Business Association indicates that two of the most important factors when evaluating the profitability of the members' farming enterprises were yields and input costs. The high-profit third of the enterprises were above average on crop yields produced and below average on input costs.
Tillage practices and operations are continually changing over time as equipment changes and new systems are developed. As we have experienced this past year, fuel costs are currently rising and can represent a significant portion of the typical crop production budget. For this reason it is important that producers evaluate each tillage operation they make and determine if the benefits outweigh the costs or expense. By reducing the number of trips through the field, producers can save fuel and labor and reduce machinery costs and wear.
Numerous examples of producers reducing the number of tillage operations can be shared. As mentioned earlier, gross returns to crop production are related to yield. High yields, however, can be obtained with any of several well-managed tillage systems. As producers have changed from conventional to reduced tillage, ridge-till, or no-till, they've eliminated trips across the field and in many cases with no effect on yield. Yields with no-till or ridge tillage may be similar, more, or less than yields with tillage.
The question becomes, "What is the anticipated outcome of shredding stalks?" Is it to improve water distribution in furrow irrigated acres (thus not needed when irrigating with pivots)? Is it to improve planting by reducing the residue in the row? Research conducted by Extension Engineer Paul Jasa has shown that if the planter is properly weighted and downpressure springs are used to keep the proper planting depth, there is no advantage to removing the residue. Attachments are available for the planter to handle the residue at planting time if need be. Better yet, the combine can be used to process the residue at harvest time and eliminate the need for a shredding operation.On-farm research results have shown similar results. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 producers in the Quad County On-farm Research Group in south central Nebraska compared shredding stalks prior to planting versus not shredding to see the effect on yields.
In 2003, one producer planted soybeans into a non-replicated plot and reported soybean yields of 66 bushels per acre for strips that were shredded or stalk chopped and 68 bushels per acre for strips that were no-tilled without shredding. Another producer reported that soybeans no-tilled into corn residue reduced the number of trips across the field, but required more careful planting management because the soil stayed wetter longer when there weren't any ridges. Planting speed also was slowed when planting into the no-till residue versus ridges that had been cleared. Quad County On-farm replicated plots in 2004 and 2005 compared strips where the corn stalks were shredded in the fall to those which were not. In this gravity irrigated situation, the yields for the strips that were not shredded were actually higher than those that were shredded in 2004 and just the opposite in 2005.
Another example of a reduced tillage operation that is being widely adopted is planting corn or grain sorghum directly into soybean residue rather than planting after tandem disking. By eliminating the disking, producers save $10.00/acre plus 3/4 inch of water and leave more residue on the surface for soil and water conservation.
It is important that producers evaluate and analyze each tillage or field operation they make. Reducing operations can add to the producer's bottom line by reducing fuel, labor and machinery costs. When properly managed, yields are maintained and often increase due to the improved timeliness of the remaining operations.