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Soaring energy costs make no-till attractive option

Record-setting fuel costs could make no-till management strategies more attractive to Missouri producers, a University of Missouri Extension specialist said.

“No-till is a natural way to minimize the impact of today's higher-cost energy supply,” said Bill Casady, MU Extension agricultural engineer. “The Conservation Technology Information Center estimates that a switch to no-till can result in savings in production costs of as much as $20 to $30 per acre — and that gap only widens as fuel prices continue to increase.”

No-till planting means fewer trips across the field, Casady noted. “That alone can add up to quick savings in energy purchases.”

Other indirect cost savings are also associated with no-till. For one, it reduces the need for the largest fuel-guzzling tractors, Casady said. “Additional fuel savings of up to 25 percent are possible by gearing up and throttling back, which allows the engine to operate in a more efficient portion of the engine's power curve.”

Heavier-than-necessary tractors should also be trimmed down for better performance. “That extra weight is a major cause of soil compaction and rolling resistance,” he said. “A heavy tractor is always sinking a little into the ground, and the tire has to climb out of that track that it's making — that tiny hill that it's creating. It's wasting power.” Remove some weight, and use the minimum recommended air pressure in the tires for maximum performance.

Farmers can achieve significant fuel economy just by making sure tractors are in excellent working order, he said. Check the injectors on diesel engines and make sure the air filters don't restrict the flow of air to the engine.

No-till can lessen soil compaction “because it more of a hard surface,” he said. “It's like a dry sponge — hard. Worked soil compacts like a wet sponge, and it doesn't take very much weight to crush the pore spaces in the soil.”

Forrest Rose is an MU Extension and ag information specialist.

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