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No-till is now the "Conventional" Tillage System for Illinois Farmers

This article was originally published on December 4, 2006 and expired on December 11, 2006. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

For the first time ever, Illinois farmers in 2006 have planted more acres using no-till methods than with conventional tillage systems, reports Bob Frazee, University of Illinois Natural Resources Educator. This data comes from the newly released T-Transect Survey, collected and compiled by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

The T-Transect Survey, reported that 33.1 percent of all Illinois corn, soybean and small grain fields surveyed in 2006 were farmed using no-till practices, which leave the soil virtually undisturbed from harvest through planting. According to Frazee, this means that for the first time, no-till is now used to plant more fields than any of the other tillage systems. Mulch-tilled fields, which allow some tillage, but have at least 30% crop residue on the soil surface accounted for 16.4 percent of the acreage; reduced-till, which uses more extensive tillage, with leaving only 15 – 30 percent residue, had 19.3 percent of the acreage, and conventional tillage, where extensive tillage trips leave less than 15 percent crop residue, was used on 31.2 percent of the acreage.

Another important tillage milestone was also reached in 2006, reports Frazee, when Illinois soybean producers planted the majority of their soybean acreage, 51 percent, using no-till. What are some of the major reasons over 5 million acres of Illinois soybeans are now planted using no-till methods?

Frazee cites five good reasons. First, in 2006, Round-up resistant soybean varieties were planted on over 90 percent of Illinois soybean fields. The Round-up herbicide program saves valuable time and tillage trips while at the same time providing excellent grass and broadleaf weed control throughout the season. Second, high diesel fuel prices have encouraged many producers to eliminate the deep ripping or chiseling of last year's corn stalks in the fall and the secondary tillage trips in spring of 2006.

The third reason showcases the tremendous improvements the major equipment manufacturers have made over the past few years in their no-till soybean planters and drills. This new equipment technology is resulting in excellent soybean seed placement and depth control, a problem which Frazee said did occur with some of the older planting equipment. Fourth, no-till soybean fields continue to yield as good as or better than conventionally or mulch-tilled soybean fields resulting in higher profits. And fifth, Frazee emphasizes that farmers are becoming good stewards of their soil and water resources by becoming increasingly concerned about soil erosion and water quality. No-till fields have been shown to reduce soil erosion by as much as 90 percent as compared to conventionally-tilled fields where no crop residue remained.

Another positive trend reported in the survey is that no-till corn acres are again on the increase. Frazee states that in 2006, 17 percent of Illinois corn acres are now planted utilizing no-till and strip-till methods. This is up from 14.9 percent acres of no-till corn in 2004.

In conclusion, Frazee feels most Illinois producers could benefit by "getting on the bandwagon" and switching to a no-till farming system for their corn, soybeans and small grains. The key is to start small and grow into the system.

Source: Robert W. Frazee, Extension Educator, Natural Resources Management, rfrazee@illinois.edu

Pull date: December 11, 2006

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