“With our estimation of total no-till acres to expand to over 12 million acres by 2011, we also expect the value of no-till systems to reach far beyond the current $200 million to Albertans in the future.”
Reduced Tillage Linkages
The trend towards no-till farming continues to increase in Alberta. According to the 2006 Statistics Canada census, no-till farming acreage had reached 9.0 million acres in Alberta, up from just 0.6 million in 1991. “We’re optimistic that number could increase to 12 million acres by the next census in 2011,” says Peter Gamache, team leader with Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages (RTL) in Edmonton.
“Our research shows that on 9 million acres, the total value of no-till for Albertans is over $200 million,” says Gamache. “This combination of environmental, economic and agronomic values adds up to far more than the dollar value, many of the environmental and landscape improvements can’t easily be measured.”
“For no-till operations, the fuel savings are considerable,” says Gamache. No-till farming operations use up to 80 per cent less fuel as compared to conventional tillage. “We used a very modest estimate of 6 litres/acre, the low end of savings.” That’s equivalent to a savings of over 53 million litres on 9 million acres.
“One of the most significant savings is labour or time,” says Gamache. “It has been difficult to get farm labour and farms can’t afford to pay oilfield wages.” No-till systems generally require one or two trips over fields compared with five or six trips with conventional tillage, a huge saving in time, labour and farm machinery life. With time savings of 15.7 minutes per acre, that adds up to over 2.3 million hours saved. For an average farm size of 1,500 to 2,000 acres, that’s about 500 hours or a week or more of time saved by switching to a no-till system.
Fertilizer costs are one of the biggest input costs. With no-till systems, one of the longer-term benefits is the improvement in soil quality and increase in organic matter.
“Although we don’t have any data to show specifics, we know that some farmers who have been in no-till systems for a long time are finding big improvements in soil quality that enables them to reduce some of their fertilizer inputs under some conditions,” says Gamache.
These systems build soil quality and improve water use efficiency through various aspects, including no-till, crop rotations, good fertility programs, cover crops where they can grow them and other good agronomic practices. Improved soil quality also means potential for yield gains, especially during dry times where yield increases can be quite significant under no-till systems.
Although difficult to measure, another benefit to improved soil quality is increased carbon sequestration.
“The cash returns may be about $1 or $1.25 per acre for carbon sequestration, but the significance is in the tonnes of carbon removed from the atmosphere,” says Gamache. The emission reductions from 9 million acres of no-till are equivalent to 2.7 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per litre of diesel fuel burned or 145,000 tonnes. “That’s equivalent to removing 26,500 cars from the road, based on the U. S. EPA average vehicle emissions and mileage,” Gamache says.
No-till systems also reduce erosion and the potential for runoff or non-point source pollution, protecting surrounding landscapes and the environment.
With increased residues, water is more likely to infiltrate than to runoff, further protecting the soil against erosion.” Reduced field disturbance and higher crop residues also improve wildlife habitat and nesting habitat for some species.
There are many technologies and techniques that offer promise. “For example, one potential area of improvement for some operations is a move to tall stubble technologies and using stripper header harvesting equipment,” says Gamache. “This system cuts down substantially on harvesting costs, which are big part of the total farm costs.” Other benefits over the long term by using lower disturbance and maximizing residue is increased contributions to organic matter, improved protection from wind and snow trapping and other agronomic benefits.
“We expect to see the trend to no-till to continue to increase and for no-till systems and technology to continually improve,” says Gamache. “With our estimation of total no-till acres to expand to over 12 million acres by 2011, we also expect the value of no-till systems to reach far beyond the current $200 million to Albertans in the future.”www.reducedtillage.ca