Wakita, Okla., farmer Rodney Hern says if after five years of no-till farming he would have had to go back to conventional farming — he would have just quit.
He kept at it and now with 14 years of no-till production under his belt, he’s saving a significant amount of money compared to conventional tillage. He figures conventional production would cost almost $52 an acre. His no-till production costs run just over $29.
He breaks it down this way: with conventional tillage he’d spend $9.12 to disk, $12.47 for a moldboard plow, $6.73 to cultivate once, $8.29 for nitrogen fertilizer application, another $6.73 for a second cultivation and $8.57 to drill.
For no-till, he spends $10.40 twice to apply chemicals and $8.57 to drill.
He’s saving at least three trips across the field, a significant reduction in fuel costs, he said during the No-till Oklahoma Conference in Oklahoma City. “I paid more than $4 a gallon last year for farm diesel,” Hern said.
No-till comes with its own challenges, however, and Hern said spray technique is one of the most important. He said tip selection, spray boom design, filters and new technology all play important roles in no-till production.
“You need a dedicated tractor for your sprayer. You’ll use much less equipment with no-till than in conventional tillage, but having one tractor dedicated to the spray rig saves the time it takes to hook and unhook it.” He said spray application timing is important and a dedicated spray tractor improves efficiency.
He also recommends that no-till farmers own a sprayer instead of depending on custom application. “I bought a used rig to make sure I’d have a sprayer available when I needed it. But with a used sprayer, make sure you can get parts and service.” He uses a cooperative to apply some material — fertilizer and some herbicide — but says he gets peace of mind by owning his own spray unit.
He also rigged his sprayer with small wheels on the end of the boom. “I work terraced ground and the wheels help run across those terraces without damaging the boom. It saves a lot of headaches.”
Hern uses several different tips on his sprayer and has three mounted on a spinner to make adjustments easier.
He recommends good filters to catch scale and other contaminants and to prevent tips from clogging. He said 100 mesh is a good choice. He cautioned farmers to watch for corrosion on spray units. “That eventually happens, but newer sprayers are made with a composite boom to eliminate corrosion.”
He said farmers have a “lot of good technology available, but you have to weigh costs against the benefits.” He tried a light bar guidance system several years back, but was never satisfied with it. He’s using a different model now with a touch screen and mapping capability and a light bar built in. He can download data into a computer. “I love it,” he said. “I can include a lot of information when I set up the system for a specific field.”
It’s a significant improvement over the old foam marker system that would “leave skips.”
He said Auto Steer is “good technology, but a bit pricey for my operation.”