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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

Author: 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 Zone

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 (rveseth@uidaho.edu).

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.


Contact us: Hans Kok, (208)885-5971 | Accessibility | Copyright | Policies | WebStats | STEEP Acknowledgement
Hans Kok, WSU/UI Extension Conservation Tillage Specialist, UI Ag Science 231, PO Box 442339, Moscow, ID 83844 USA
Redesigned by Leila Styer, CAHE Computer Resource Unit; Maintained by Debbie Marsh, Dept. of Crop & Soil Sciences, WSU