Economic performance of alternative tillage systems in the northern corn belt

While no-till (NT) cropping systems can provide conservation benefits in the northern Corn Belt, adoption has been low due to concerns about potential yield reductions and economic risk. Strip-tillage (ST) systems have been proposed as an alternative that may provide many of the conservation benefits of NT while maintaining productivity and economic returns. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the effects of NT and five ST alternatives: fall residue management (Fall RM), Fall RM + ST, spring residue management (Spring RM), Spring RM + ST, and Fall RM + Subsoil, relative to conventional moldboard plow (MP) and chisel plow (CP) tillage systems on corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] yields and economic risks and returns. Average yields over the 7-yr study were not significantly different among tillage systems, but average net returns for NT, Fall RM, and Spring RM were $85, 92, and 53 ha–1 higher, respectively, than for MP. Risk analysis showed tillage system preferences ranked as: Fall RM > NT > Fall RM + ST > Spring RM + ST, Spring RM > CP > Fall RM + Subsoil > MP for risk neutral or risk averse producers facing uncertain yield, crop price, and input price conditions. Thus, ST and NT may be economically viable alternatives to conventional tillage systems for corn and soybean production in the northern Corn Belt.

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