No-till soybeans offer many benefits

No-till soybeans offer many benefits so consider these before performing tillage operations this spring.

Interest in performing tillage operations prior to planting soybeans following corn has increased. The primary reason is the observation that corn residue remaining in the fields is reducing the performance of planting equipment the following spring. While some level of tillage may be beneficial in certain conditions, no-till planting systems should perform well this spring if planting conditions improve. We enjoyed ideal harvest conditions last fall so most fields are free from the combine ruts and soil compaction problems we experienced in the fall of 2009.

Numerous university trials have shown that no-till soybean yields are comparable to those produced under various tillage systems including vertical tillage systems. The slight yield advantage (one to two bushels per acre) that did occur with some tillage systems was not large enough to outweigh the economic and environmental benefits of no-till soybean production systems. These benefits are listed below.

Less fuel consumption and emissions. Eliminating chisel plowing and one secondary tillage pass can save up to two gallons of diesel fuel or $8 per acre. Reduced fuel consumption translates directly into fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased efficiency. By eliminating a single tillage pass this spring, more acres can be planted in the same amount of time. This may be an important consideration due to the planting delays we’ve experienced this spring.

Reduced labor costs. Eliminating chisel plowing and one secondary tillage pass can save $3 per acre in labor costs.

Reduced soil erosion. According to the United Soybean Board, conservation systems including no-till, mulch-till and strip till/ridge till soybean production have reduced soil erosion in the United States by 93 percent.

Increased carbon sequestration. An Iowa study showed that switching from a conventional tillage system to a no-till system increased carbon sequestration by 485 lbs. per acre.

Reduced soil moisture losses from evaporation. Evaporative water losses during the growing season can be reduced by three to five inches per acre.

Reduced nutrient and pesticide runoff and surface water contamination. According to the United Soybean Board, conservation tillage systems including no-till, mulch-till and strip-till/ridge till have reduced phosphorus contamination of surface water by 80 percent and pesticide runoff by 70 percent.

If you feel you need to till prior to planting soybeans this spring, make a single pass with a shallow tillage implement when soil conditions permit. The vertical tillage tools, a field cultivator or combination finishing tool are recommended but avoid running a traditional disk to avoid compaction problems. Please refer to the following articles for more information on vertical tillage tools:

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology), developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. Funding for the SMaRT project is provided by MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.

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