Tillage of Nebraska farmland

Every farmer approaches his operation in an individual manner, and tilling—or, not tilling—is no exception. The latter approach is being increasingly incorporated by farmers in Nebraska and across the US. In no-till farming, the seed and fertilizer are placed directly into the ground without tilling it first. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of adopting this method for your Nebraska farmland?

The number one reason many producers make the switch is due to the cost-saving advantages of the method. Not tilling, disking, or plowing saves the farmer significant fuel costs, as well as wear and tear on machinery. Allowing the soil to remain undisturbed preserves the soil structure, which in turn provides increased moisture to the growing crop. Farmers who no-till have to irrigate their growing crop less, and the cost savings add up quickly.

In no-till farming, the organic matter is left on top of the soil, which significantly reduces erosion and helps to preserve moisture in the ground, likewise reducing fertilizer and irrigation costs. According to UNL’s CropWatch, “No-till crop production systems leave the most residue and often prove to be the most profitable methods of crop production.”

One of the hurdles of adopting a no-till approach on your farm comes during the initial phase; often, the benefits are delayed for a time. Olga Walsh, University of Idaho cropping systems agronomist and extension specialist, said that when a farm switches from tilling to no-till, it can take five to six years to build soil structure, water holding capacity, and organic matter. Often, farmers will make the decision to try no-till farming, see little to no benefits after the first year, and abandon the practice after one growing season.

According to an article about no-till farming at Agweb.com, “During that time, farmers might need to use more nitrogen fertilizers to help the crops grow, but after that initial period of adjustment, farmers save money on fertilizers, fuel costs and more.” For established no-till farmers, the long-term benefits and the eventual cost savings make it worth the effort.

Another benefit to adopting no-till practices is that the farmer spends significantly less time in the field, and can therefore direct more time and attention to other areas of his life and work.

Aside from the initial delay in benefits, critics of the practice cite the increased need for herbicides for weed-control. Since tilling practices reduce weeds, no-till farmers often have to put more effort and money into applying herbicides, which some also view as an environmental concern.

When making the decision about whether to try the no-till approach, one must take into account the qualities of each particular parcel of land, and carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages before applying the practice on his farm, although the practice is well-suited for many different soil types. Many farmers use no-till practices on only certain quarters, depending upon its qualities.

Although no-tilling has yet to catch on in many areas, there is little doubt that it is becoming increasingly prevalent across the state and nation.

Do you have questions about how best to manage your land? Feel free to give us a call at UFARM—we are glad to help.

UFARM offers a full range of Nebraska land management services, including real estate sales, rural property appraisals, consultations and crop insurance. UFARM has operated in Nebraska since the early 1930’s. Contact us today!

Sources consulted: Sarita Ingram, Karen. “No-till Farming Grows in Popularity.” Agweb.com. Farm Journal. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.  “Tillage Systems Descriptions.” CropWatch. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.




Just as the old adage, “A woman’s work is never done,” rings true, so too could one say this about farmers. With Nebraska farmers at or approaching the midway point of the 2013 harvest, most have already thought ahead to the ways they will manage their fields after the crops are out and before winter sets in. There is a wide array of tilling practices across the state, and even among smaller geographical areas. It seems that tilling practices are as individual as farmers themselves, and many factors influence where a farmer will be on the tilling/no-tilling spectrum.

There are two main factors all producers take into account when it comes to tillage decisions. One is soil type, and the other is soil moisture. As such, fall tillage practices vary from operation to operation, and even within operations, since one must consider the soil characteristics of each individual piece of ground. Weather conditions also have a considerable effect on how producers deal with fall tillage of their land.

Fall Tillage

Many farmers think that fall tillage is better than spring tillage, since the soil moisture profile is usually more suitable. Generally, less moisture in the ground during fall tillage leads to less soil compaction, more efficient soil fracturing, less smearing of soil, and less large soil clods, resulting in better soil quality and yields. Experts stress that staying off of wet soils has a tremendous effect on soil structure, as very wet soils compact very easily, in turn affecting yields down the line.

There are many different ways farmers till as well, and these practices also depend upon the type of ground with which they are dealing. There are certain advantages and disadvantages associated with these various forms of tilling, including their effects on soil erosion, moisture loss, fuel  and labor costs, soil structure and temperature, compaction, and dependence on herbicides. This chart illustrates the major advantages and disadvantages associated with the major tilling systems: http://cropwatch.unl.edu/web/tillage/advdisadv.

Many farmers also have livestock to consider, and tilling before putting out livestock to graze the stubble is, of course, not an option. More and more farmers are relying on cover crops to supplement their livestock during the fall and winter months, as well as to control soil profiles, add nitrogen, control erosion, and prevent runoff. Many producers find that not only do cover crops provide excellent forage for their cattle, but they also help soil to retain nutrients and moisture in the long run. Of course, large-scale grazing  of cattle can lead to soil compaction, so farmers must take into consideration both the pros and cons of putting their livestock out on various fields.

Farmers and livestock producers are continually making decisions about what is best for their operations, and realize that just because the crops are out does not mean that work stops until spring planting.

To learn more about how land tillage practices affect the long-term value of your farm, set up a free consultation with one of our experienced farm mangers.