Pacific Northwest Conservation
Tillage Handbook Series No. 14
Chapter 10 - New Technology Access, Adaptation and Economics, March 2000
PNW Economics Research
Shows No-Till Profitability
Doug Young, Washington State University Agricultural Economist; Herb Hinman,
WSU Extension Agricultural Economist, Pullman; and Roger Veseth, WSU /
UI Extension Conservation Tillage Specialist, Moscow, ID.
Recent research results in
the Inland Northwest have confirmed that no-till production costs can
be lower and profitability higher than conventional tillage systems. The
economic performance of ten experienced no-till growers in the Inland
Northwest was the focus of a two-year research effort by WSU agricultural
economists Doug Young and Herb Hinman, and graduate student Oumou Camara.
The researchers conducted intensive economic case studies of six experienced
no-till growers in the 19- to 22-inch precipitation zone of eastern Washington
and northern Idaho and four in the 8- to 13-inch zone of central Washington.
Copies of the research publications are available through the WSU Cooperative
Extension offices and on the Internet.
Low Production Costs
Winter wheat production costs for all six higher precipitation growers'
were impressively low and remarkably uniform. Total costs/bu ranged from
$2.52 to $2.92 compared to $2.95/bu for a typical conventional tillage
budget. The average no-till total production cost of $2.65/bu beat the
1993-97 average market price for soft white winter wheat of $3.72 by more
than a dollar. The six no-till growers also had relatively low production
costs for spring crops, but the margin was lower than for winter wheat.
These impressive economic results raise the question of whether the nonrandom
sample of six no-till growers was atypically successful due to personal
experience, managerial skills, or favorable agro-climatic environments.
While these growers may be further along on the learning curve than most,
they were very humble about failures along the way and claimed to be blessed
by no special luck or knowledge.
Key Management Strategies
The economic success seemed to be attributable to frugal machinery management
and learning the proper weed and disease control, fertility management,
and other practices to make no-till systems work on their particular farms.
Appropriate management for no-till enabled the case study growers to achieve
higher than average yields in most cases. These same factors explained
the relative success of no-till growers in the lower precipitation zone.
Changing No-Till Trends
The success of this handful of experienced no-till growers stands out
from the pattern of slow adoption of no-till in the PNW. Annual surveys
of tillage practices by the national Conservation Technology Information
Center show that U.S. growers used no-till systems on about 16 percent
of cropland in 1998 compared to 3 percent in 1989. In the Pacific Northwest,
percent of cropland was in no-till has only grown from 3 percent in 1989
to 5 percent in 1998, although some Inland Northwest counties had 15 to
20 percent in no-till. Fear of economic losses has long been an underlying
factor behind the reluctance of many PNW growers to adopt no-till. By
providing a better understanding of the nature of and reasons for the
economic success of this pioneering sample of no-till growers, this study
should accelerate adoption of no-till where it is suitable and reduce
economic and environmental losses from soil erosion in the PNW. The results
of this study are timely as interest in no-till farming is growing rapidly
in the PNW. For example, about 900 growers and Ag support personnel attended
the 1998 and 1999 STEEP Direct Seeding Conferences in the Tri-Cities and
Spokane, compared to 150 to 200 in earlier no-till and conservation tillage
conferences. Concern about the economic viability of no-till was a major
concern of many growers attending these meetings.
Accessing the New Publications
The no-till case studies are summarized in two new WSU Cooperative Extension
publications in the Farm Business Management Reports series, available
on the Web and in print.
EB 1885 -- Economic
Case Studies of Eastern Washington No-Till Farmers Growing Wheat and Barley
in the 8-13 Inch Precipitation Zone
EB 1886 -- Economic
Case Studies of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho No-Till Farmers
Growing Wheat, Barley, Lentils and Peas in the 19-22 Inch Precipitation
The publications are accessible
on the Internet (http://farm.mngt.wsu.edu/onlinepub.html).
Print copies of the publications are available for $1.50 through the county
WSU Cooperative Extension offices or can be ordered directly through the
Bulletin Office, Cooperative Extension, Cooper Publications Bldg., Washington
State University, Pullman, WA 99164-5912, (509) 335-2857 (some shipping
and handling fees, and sales tax may apply).
These bulletins provide detailed
budgets and listings of management practices for each case study no-till
grower, who is identified only by letters to preserve anonymity. They
are currently the most comprehensive economic case studies of no-till
production by Northwest growers. The case study results show that no-till
can be very competitive economically when properly implemented.
Pacific Northwest Conservation
Tillage Handbook Series publications are jointly produced by University
of Idaho Cooperative Extension System, Oregon State University Extension
Service and Washington State University Cooperative Extension. Similar
crops, climate, and topography create a natural geographic unit that crosses
state lines in this region. Joint writing, editing, and production prevent
duplication of effort, broaden the availability of faculty, and substantially
reduce costs for the participating states.
The Pacific Northwest Conservation
Tillage Handbook is a large, three-ring binder handbook that is updated
with new and revised Handbook Series publications. It was initiated in
1989 as a PNW Extension publication in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Updates
to the Handbook are provided when the updating card is returned. By 1999,
47 new PNW Conservation Tillage Handbook Series have been added to the
original 98. Copies of the complete Handbook are available for $20 through
county extension offices in the Northwest or ordered directly by calling
state extension publication offices: Idaho -- (208) 885-7982;
Oregon -- (541)-737-2513; Washington -- (509) 335-2999
(some shipping and handling charges and sales tax may apply). It's now
accessible on the Internet! All of the PNW Conservation Tillage Handbook
and Handbook Series are on the Internet home page (http://pnwsteep.wsu.edu)
Pacific Northwest STEEP III Conservation Tillage Systems Information Source.
The home page also contains recent issues of the PNW STEEP III Extension
Conservation Tillage Update, listings of other conservation tillage
information resources, coming events and much more. For more information
on the Handbook or updates to the Handbook, contact Roger Veseth, WSU/UI
Conservation Tillage Specialist, Plant Soil and Entomological Sciences
Department, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-2339, phone 208-885-6386,
FAX 208-885-7760, e-mail (email@example.com).
Cooperative Extension programs
and policies comply with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination
regarding race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability,
and sexual orientation. The University of Idaho Cooperative Extension
System, Oregon State University Extension Service and Washington State
University Cooperative Extension are Equal Opportunity Employers.