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No Till, No Tile Better for Corn, ND Data Suggest

Somehow I ran across this article from North Dakota State University Extension soil health specialist Abbey Wick, who reports that an experiment on 160 acres at their Mooreton, ND, research farm showed better corn yields in Fargo clay soil that had not been tiled than in nearby tiled soil. The same experiment also showed better corn yields in no-till strips planted with cereal rye/radish cover than land in the same field conventionally tilled.

NDSU graphic, in Abbey Wick, "A Look at Yield Response to Drainage and No-Till," AgWeek, 2019.01.20.
NDSU graphic, in Abbey Wick, “A Look at Yield Response to Drainage and No-Till,” AgWeek, 2019.01.20.

These soil treatments made less difference in yields of soybeans and wheat planted in the same field in subsequent years. Wick characterizes the differences for these two crops as insignificant. Wick emphasizes these results come from a single field, and data are always better when replicated in multiple settings.

But these data suggest that, if you’re planting corn, tile and tillage aren’t worth the effort. Through the wonders of Google, the first supporting data I find come from South Africa, where an agricultural economist and part-time farmer found no-till methods costing less and producing more maize.

As for soybeans and wheat, if tiling and tillage don’t make much difference, I invite my farm readers to offer their own cost estimates.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-01-20 17:53

    This is located about 6 miles straight South of moi.

    This small plot measures water drainage through different tiles and different tillage situations. Not alot of available useful info, yet. This is mostly the layout.

    Here is the main research location which is a mile west and a mile or so South of drainage acreage on US HIway 59.

  2. mike from iowa 2019-01-20 17:56

    Location map in first link has plot in W Clay County, not E Obrien Co. I can assure you, whether you want to be assured the plot is indeed in Obrien County.

  3. happy camper 2019-01-20 18:17

    One field statistically means nothing I’m personally against it but raw production numbers pencil out. As always it is not black and white by any means the water may look clear and clean which doesn’t mean it’s safe. The race to maximize profits is a dangerous game.

  4. Debbo 2019-01-20 21:59

    Small farmers are using pigs to till fields and it works. They rotate the pigs from field to field and the farmers don’t have to till the fields for planting. Plus the fields are fertilized.

    I wonder how far it can be scaled up? 500 hogs, 1000? I don’t know much about hog farming but in this model you get pasture and feed for the animals and tilling and fertilization for the fields.

    My friend south of Aberdeen had guinea fowl and they foraged in the soybean fields across the road. It was a 120 acre field and he didn’t need pesticides. After the first year he bought any additional guineas, paid any costs for them and she basically managed them as they lived on her farm. Much cheaper. As a bonus, they are first rate watchdogs too.

    There are many ways to farm besides all chemicals all the time. Some may scale up, some not.

  5. cibvet 2019-01-21 00:45

    My brother-in law and nephew have been doing no-till for 7 years now and will not got back to conventional tilling.

  6. mike from iowa 2019-01-21 08:08

    Perosnally, I have noticed more area farmers dragging out the cultivators for their row crops and cutting back on the use of overly expensive and less effective herbicides.

    For any number of years you never saw a cultivator.

  7. mike from iowa 2019-01-21 08:10

    Debbo, guineas are supposed to keep rats out of chicken houses and I can attest it is not true if there is an established rat population.

    ps saw another coon before daylight today.

  8. TAG 2019-01-21 08:32

    This is kind of a tangent from the farming methods discussion, but I think its interesting to see my father-in-law start to change many of this views in his old age. Although he will probably always be a conventional-till guy, and a wetland buster, his wildlife observations have become a lot more conservation-minded.

    He hasn’t had a dog on the farm for several years, and hasn’t had a cat for a few years, and yet he doesn’t have a huge rodent problem. He has noticed that the wild predators have done a good job at that, when they aren’t being “controlled” with dogs/trapping/hunting.

    He is especially impressed with skunks, because they kill rodents, but are also really good at controlling grubs in the field without too much damage to the crop.

    I think the reason he is so against no-till and tries to drain every wetland is because he doesn’t like to be told what is best for his farm by people that are also penalizing him. Its a catch-22. “winning them over” vs forcing them with policy would probably be more effective, but also very slow.

  9. mike from iowa 2019-01-21 08:47

    Your FIL might be a better conservationist if he controlled skunks and coons for the sake of ground nesting wildlife and left wetlands for ducks and cover for gamebirds. One case of rabies, scabies or distemper will wipe out much of the mammalian population around the farmstead. No offense.

  10. Porter Lansing 2019-01-21 09:09

    Psychologically, people who don’t want to be told what to do are the easiest to tell what to do. Manipulators like Powers and grudznick make villains out of people with new ideas and new money by calling them out-of-staters “trying to tell you what to do”. These manipulator lobbyists are doing exactly what they’re condemning. Leading voters and legislators around by their fears and subconsciously “telling them what to do”. What we out-of-staters are really doing is presenting new choices for outdated methods. Choices (by definition) bump up against what the manipulator lobbyists are being paid to protect. Protecting the old ways that are making some people lots of money and costing the fearful even more.

  11. Edwin A Arndt 2019-01-21 09:29

    Cory, or anyone else for that matter, if you want to know about
    no-till farming in South Dakota, contact Dr. Dwayne L. Beck at
    Dakota Lakes research farm in Pierre. You can google Dakota Lakes
    research farm. Dr. Beck is free with his opinions.

  12. TAG 2019-01-21 10:17


    I don’t disagree with you on the wetlands. They are critical as both habitat, flood control, sediment and pollution trapping and processing, etc. etc. I work professionally in that field.

    I just find it interesting that people that farmers come about an environmental ethic and land ethics in different ways. A lifetime of observations of your own land can yield an understanding and appreciation for nature that can get better with age.

    I also disagree with you on predator control. At least for Coyotes and Racoons hunting and trapping usually backfires if your goal is to lower the local small predator population. Removing an old coon with an established territory often just invites more to enter and breed more.
    And foxes, skunks, coons and coyotes ALL control rodents. Which also help keep the tick population down.

  13. mike from iowa 2019-01-21 10:35

    Coyotes will also control your farm dog and farm cat populations with relish. My landlord’s yellow lab got tolled away from the farm one evening and was all chewed up the next day and had to be put to sleep.


  14. mike from iowa 2019-01-21 17:51

    Coons are still active. Saw one go into barn before 7 this morning a saw another leave corn crib where landlord stores round hay bales about 10 minutes ago.
    Pretty sure field tiles aren’t running now.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-21 20:49

    Hey, Debbo—aren’t those guineas immigrants? Did your friend have to get H-2A visas for those birds? ;-)

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-21 20:51

    Keep that coyote away from my pup!

    Say, how do coyotes feel about country joggers?

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-21 20:51

    Does planting a cover crop require less energy than tilling?

  18. Francis Schaffer 2019-01-21 21:24

    The Chinese Ring-neck Pheasant isn’t native to this state or the country. By energy do you mean less diesel for cover crop versus tillage? Yes.

  19. Porter Lansing 2019-01-21 21:30

    What’s a guinea, paisano? Ba da bing :)

  20. Debbo 2019-01-21 22:09

    I knew that was coming from somewhere Porter. I knew it!

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-23 07:21

    Thanks, Francis. I take it the cost of cover crop seed isn’t much compared to the cost of fuel for tilling?

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