Modern conservation tillage practices do not affect crop yield in a negative way, according to a study by North Dakota State University.
Aaron Daigh, a researcher and professor at North Dakota State University, and his team compared the effects of 3 common conservation tillage systems to the traditional method of a chisel plow with field cultivation:
After 4 years, researchers observed that yields rarely, if ever, differed among the 4 tillage systems at any of the farms. The study by Daigh and his team suggests that adapting conservation tillage practices will not cause yield losses. In fact, conservation tillage practices will lower on-farm costs while preserving long-term productivity.
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“These results may ease farmers’ concerns about switching to conservation tillage,” says Daigh. “Perhaps more farmers will consider if conservation tillage practices are a good fit for their operations.”
“I encourage farmers who are interested, but hesitant, to try conservation tillage practices on 1 field to get more accustomed to the new system,” he says. “Then, try it out on more fields until you get your farm designed to meet your needs and goals.”
As always, the whole picture should be evaluated before making on-farm decisions. “It’s not just about yield,” says Daigh. “Economics and crop-residue for erosion protection should also guide farmer decisions.”
The research team continues to investigate. “We are currently looking at the incorporation of cover crops into reduced tillage practices,” says Daigh.
This study focused on farms with 1 type of tillage used per field. However, newer equipment allows for variable tillage methods at once. For example, it may be capable of vertical tillage and strip tillage at the same time. In the future, Daigh and his colleagues would like to see researchers evaluate the effects of these new technologies.