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What Is No-Till Farming?

What is no-till farming? 

The term ‘no-till farming’ is one that has become very topical – trendy even – in recent years.  There’s a been a huge rise in the number of farmers curious about what no-till could bring to their soil, their yields, and their farm overheads.

But in fact, the concept of no-till has been around as long as farming itself, since the first human poked a hole in the soil with a stick, and dropped in a seed.  As a farming practice, it’s been around in the US since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s – and has become increasingly popular since after WW2.

But what exactly is no-till?  Is it one farming practice – or many?  How many farmers are doing it?  And what does the future of no-till look like?  In this blog, we’ll explore the history, the mechanics and the state – current and projected – of no-till farming in the US.

First things first: what is no-till?

No-till farming is fairly self-explanatory – it’s a farming method that involves not tilling the soil.  That means no plowing, no ripping, no harrowing – nothing that disturbs the soil structure.  When it comes to planting time, seeds are planted through the residue of last year’s crop using seed disc openers to cut a v-shaped trench that is closed at the back of the planter, and the emerging seeds grow up through the residue.

When was no-till first introduced?

The very first farmers used no-till systems.  It wasn’t until the invention of the plow in the 1700s that tillage as we know it today became commonplace – in fact, American farmers were initially suspicious of the plow, believing that it poisoned the soil and caused weeds to proliferate.

A soil crisis

By the early 1800s, the idea of horse- or ox-drawn plows had caught on and farmers discovered that by tilling the soil, they could plant seed more quickly and get rid of unwanted plants including grass and weeds from their crop fields.  By the early 1900s, rising demand for wheat led to a change in US agricultural policy that rewarded farmers for planting larger and larger acreages, especially in the prairie grasslands of the Midwest.  When drought hit in 1930, vast swathes of land were turned into the ‘Dust Bowl’, with millions of tons of topsoil lost and large parts of the region rendered useless for farming.  

After that, farmers realised that overplowing of the land could cause more harm than good.  In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Soil Erosion Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service) to develop and promote ‘new’ farming techniques – including no-till – to tackle the problem of soil erosion.

How does no-till benefit the soil?

No-till benefits the soil by leaving its natural structures intact.  Soils are bound together by organic matter, plant roots, and a complex network of pores and channels that allow water to infiltrate to deeper levels.  They are also teeming with life, including larger organisms like earthworms and burrowing insects, and microscopic organisms like bacteria and fungi.  These organisms serve to break down organic matter in the soil, like the foliage from dead plants, and convert it into fertilizer for future plant growth.

When the soil is tilled, this delicate ecosystem is disturbed.  The soil’s natural structure is destroyed, living organisms die off and organic matter is much slower to break down, so the soil’s natural nutrients get depleted more quickly.  The soil loses its ability to effectively store moisture so it becomes very dry, or completely waterlogged depending on climatic conditions – but both cases lead to erosion and soil losses either due to wind or flooding.

No-till systems effectively allow the soil to look after itself, preventing erosion and preserving nutrients for enhanced soil quality and fertility.

Are there different types of no-till system?

No-till is a system on its own, but it’s part of a wider range of farming practices often referred to as ‘conservation tillage’.  These methods (for example strip tillage or mulch-till) are aimed at reducing the amount of tillage required, leaving some of the soil structure intact or rotating the parts that are tilled from one year to the next.

How does no-till benefit the farmer?

Aside from the obvious benefits of healthier, more fertile soils on crop yields, no-till systems have a number of labor and cost benefits for farmers.

The workload with no-till is less because the farmer doesn’t need to make multiple passes through the field, first tilling the soil or plowing in residue, and then planting the seed.  This means lower labor costs, and more time to spend on other farming tasks.  No-till systems also typically have lower machinery and fuel costs – often the only equipment required is a planter, where conventional tillage farmers may use a number of implements to prepare a seed bed before planting.

How many farmers in the US are running no-till systems?

Data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture shows that 37% of tillage acreage in the US is no-tilled – an increase of 2.4% from the previous Census – that equates to 104 million acres under no-till.  According to the USDA, the highest percentage of no-till acres are wheat (45%) followed by corn and soybeans.

What is the future for no-till?

Research clearly shows that the number of farmers practicing no-till is growing year-on-year, and this growth is expected to continue.  Increased global population and the pressures of a changing climate will mean farmers need to preserve every ounce of fertile soil, and no-till could prove key to this.  

A recent study by AGU found that soil is currently being eroded across Midwestern states at a rate of 1mm per year – then modeled what the situation could look like if all farmers adopted no-till.  The study found that is every tillage farmer switched to a sustainable method, soil erosion could be completely halted within 100 years, preventing the loss of 9 billion metric tons of fertile soil.

There’s also an interesting debate around whether no-till will be replaced by a broader term like ‘conservation agriculture’ that combines principles of no-till with other conservation farming methods like cover cropping and crop rotation, creating a holistic system that works in harmony with nature to maximize crop yields.

Want to learn more?

If you’re interested in the principles of no-till agriculture and would like to learn more about how it could benefit your farm or those of your customers, we recommend a trip to the National No-Till Conference taking place in Indianapolis in January. 

As a title sponsor, Wearparts will be in attendance and there will be opportunities to hear from speakers with advanced expertise in the field of no-till as well as hearing from our sales team about how Wearparts tillage and planting parts are specifically tailored for no-till applications.  Registration for the event is now open – for all other queries, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

How Air Seeders Maximize Crop Yields

Sowing Success: How Air Seeders Maximize Crop Yields

From the horse-drawn plow to the modern day agricultural planter, farmers throughout history have sought to make the process of planting and growing crops more efficient in order to maximize yields – and air seeders are the most recent innovation to advance that goal.

When compared to box drill systems, air seeders have the power to bring even more speed, precision and efficiency to the planting process – especially over large acreages.  This means they offer an attractive proposition for farmers who are facing higher costs and reduced premiums for their product.

But if you’ve never considered using an air seeder, or even seen one up close, you might have questions.  How do air seeders actually work?  What’s the difference between an air seeder and a box drill?  And can air seeders really make farms more productive?  We’ve done some research to help you find the answers to these questions, and more.

Photo Courtesy of 2B Drilling

What is an air seeder?

An air seeder is a type of planter that uses pneumatic technology to deliver seed into the ground.  The seed is volumetrically metered below the seed box or tank, which allows the farmer to precisely set the amount of seed by weight or by volume that he or she wishes to distribute per area. Where box drills rely on gravity to bring the seed from the seed box, down the tube, and into the furrow, air seeders are fitted with fans that blow the seed into the seed boot for additional precision, especially when sowing small, light seeds.

Air seeder vs. box drill: Which is right for my farm?

Air seeders are very large, heavy-duty machines, capable of covering large acreages in a short amount of time.  Therefore, they are typically used on larger farms where the benefits of their added precision will accumulate quickly.  Because of their extremely rugged performance, air seeders are popular with farmers running no-till systems where their extra weight and durability means they can position seeds more efficiently even in tough soil conditions.  Air seeders offer particular advantages when planting small seeds like wheat, canola and rapeseed where the fine, light nature of the seeds makes them difficult to plant precisely using a conventional planter.  If these crops make up a large proportion of your operations – or if you are simply looking to make the overall planting process faster and more efficient, especially in no-till, then an air seeder could be for you.

What are the benefits of using an air seeder?

There are many benefits that lead farmers to switch from box drills to air seeders, particularly on larger farms or in no-till systems.  Here’s a summary of the key benefits.


Air seeders have evolved to become very large units that are often more than 50ft wide.  The largest air seeder in the world is the Zells Airseeder which comes in at a gigantic 214ft!  Because they are so wide, air seeders are capable of covering a lot of ground in the least amount of time.  They can also be combined with existing tillage implements including disc openers and fertilizer knives to complete a series of tasks in a single pass.

Precision planting

As previously mentioned, air seeders allow for volumetric metering of the seed based on a predetermined number or weight of seeds per acre.  This method allows for rapid and uniform seed distribution right across the field, which means the farmer can sow large areas quickly, even in no-till systems or when using fine seed types that might otherwise be tricky to disperse evenly.  Because air seeders use fans to blow the seed into the trench, they are also able to achieve more precise depth placement on small seed types, which improves germination and ultimately, yield.

Flexibility for different seed types

Air seeders are often selected by farmers for sowing small seeds, but they can actually be used for any type of seed regardless of size or shape.  Volumetric metering means it’s easy to switch from planting one type of crop to another without the need for extensive adjustments to the machine, or the need to use seed-specific blades.

Suitable for no-till

Air seeders are typically large, heavy pieces of machinery, which makes them suitable for no-till operations in two ways.  Firstly, the weight of the machine means that it can easily penetrate soil that has not been tilled, and still plant the seed precisely.  Secondly, because air seeders are so large and so versatile, they eliminate the need for multiple passes of the same piece of land, which reduced soil compaction overall while facilitating all the soil health benefits of no-till.

Durability and ease of use

Air seeders are renowned for their ease of use and their long-term durability.  Heavy duty construction on all non-ground-engaging components means that the main body of your air seeder will have a long life, with no need for advanced maintenance.  The interchangeable parts – such as seed discs and hoses – are similar in design to many other planting and tillage implements and spare parts are readily available.  With some simple, annual maintenance, your air seeder will give you years if not decades of reliable performance, with no need for time-consuming fine-tuning and no expensive repairs. 

How do air seeders improve crop yields?

Using an air seeder for agricultural planting can increase overall crop yields in a number of ways.  Firstly, air seeders reduce the amount of manpower needed to get a large crop into the ground in the first place.  By covering more ground in less time, they enable farmers to plant more when conditions are favourable, and to cover larger areas without the need for additional machinery and manual labor.

Air seeders can also improve yields thanks to their precision. By enabling the farmer to adjust how much seed it planted per acre in a specific location, he can adjust for topographical and environmental variations across the farm, as well as setting the appropriate seed density for his chosen crop.  This means that optimal growing conditions are created, whereby plants do no have to compete for light, water or nutrients.

What replacements parts do I need for an air seeder?

Like any piece of planting or tillage equipment, the parts of an air seeder that come into contact with the ground will wear out over time and require replacing.  This includes components like seed openers, gauge wheels, seed boots and closing wheels.  At Wearparts, we supply a range of replacement parts for popular air seeder models, including John Deere.

Want to find out more?

If you’re running an air seeder on your farm – or if you’re an ag dealer getting requests for specific air seeder parts – the Wearparts sales team will be happy to answer any questions you may have about our air seeder components, and help you identify the correct part number/s for your needs.  Get in touch today to find out more.

An essential guide to conservation tillage

There’s an old saying in farming that “when tillage begins, other arts will follow”.

It’s certainly true that the ability to cultivate crops has advanced humanity as much as any other technological innovation, but the world – and the climate – are changing.

We know more now than ever before about how to get maximum productivity from the land at our disposal, but we also face a unique set of challenges that are forcing our industry to adapt.

Conservation tillage is one of those adaptations – and it’s growing in popularity year on year. But what exactly is conservation tillage, and how can it help farmers to work with the soil, instead of against it? Let’s take a look:

What is conservation tillage?

Conservation tillage is a collective term for a range of tillage practices that seek to conserve soil, nutrients, water and energy, mainly through the reduction in the intensity of tillage, and retention of plant residues. It is often defined as “any tillage and planting system that covers 30 percent or more of the soil surface with crop residue, after planting, to reduce soil erosion by water”.

Why choose conservation tillage?

Science is waking up to the reality that farming techniques adopted since the mechanisation of the industry, and designed to maximise the productivity of arable land, have actually been having the opposite effect in the long-term.

Earth is currently losing around 23 billion tons of fertile soil every year. If we keep going like this, experts predict that we only have enough fertile soil to last us for another 150 years. At the same time, factors that contribute to soil loss – such as desertification and flooding – are becoming more significant due to climate change. Farmers are also facing rising costs for everything from fuel to fertilizer to machinery.

It’s clear that in order to continue producing food for an ever-increasing global population, we need to revisit the way we think about soil conservation, and tillage farming in general.

What are the main types of conservation tillage?

Under the umbrella of conservation tillage, there are a number of recognised tillage techniques, each with different features. Here are some of the most common:


As the name suggest, no-till farming is a technique that avoids tilling altogether. Conventional tillage was developed because it enabled farmers to plant more seeds, faster – but now the technology exists to help them do this without tilling at all. The use of seed opened blades means they can plant directly into the soil without disturbing the organic matter, in a single pass.

No-till has significant benefits for soil health as well as reducing labor and fuel costs. On average, farmers practicing continuous conventional till use just over six gallons of diesel fuel per acre each year. Continuous no-till requires less than two gallons per acre. Across the country, that means nearly 282 million gallons of diesel fuel saved annually by farmers who practice continuous no-till instead of continuous conventional till.

However, there can also be additional costs with no-till, particularly in relation to herbicides. Controlling the growth of the vegetation on the surface is vital to ensure seedlings can germinate successfully and get access to enough light and nutrients to thrive. In many cases, farmers practicing no-till have higher herbicide costs than those on conventional tillage systems. However, organic no-till IS possible, using free range livestock or cover crops to suppress weeds.

Strip or zone till

Strip or zone tillage is a conservation tillage system where only the seed bed is tilled, leaving plenty of crop residue to surround the crop rows. The strips or zones are alternated each year so half the field is always resting while the other half is tilled.Strip tillage offers farmers the best of both worlds – a tilled strip offering a good tilth and soil temperature, plus the moisture and nutrient-retaining benefits of no-till.

Ridge till

Ridge tillage is a system that involves the creation of raised beds or ridges in the field. Crop residue and stubble are left following the harvest until planting time. Tillage before planting is generally very shallow, disturbing only the ridge tops. Ridge tillage is an excellent system for retaining moisture in the soil while also providing a ‘dry zone’ on the shoulder of the ridge, which reduces run-off and prevents nutrient loss. The ridges also warm up faster in spring, making this system useful in zones with a shorter growing season. Mechanical weed control is also possible with ridge tillage, making it a popular option for organic farms.

How does it benefit the soil?

Undisturbed soil resembles a sponge, held together by an intricate structure of different soil particles and channels created by roots and soil organisms. It is also teeming with microbes and insects, all working together in a delicate ecosystem that retains and moves nutrients and water around under the surface.

Tillage disturbs this balance, by loosening or removing the plant matter that binds the soil, and displacing or killing the living organisms that contribute to its fertility. Over time, tillage means soil loses organic matter, is less able to absorb water and nutrients, and is more prone to erosion by wind and water. The long-term use of deep tillage can convert healthy soil into a lifeless growing medium that relies on chemical inputs for productivity.

Conservation tillage (particularly no-till) reduces soil disturbance and enables the soil’s ecosystem to remain intact. Essentially, it allows nature to do the work for the farmer. Organic matter from the previous year’s crop decomposes naturally, and is incorporated into the soil by earthworms and insects. Burrowing organisms and plant roots create channels that allow water and nutrients to move around more freely, reducing the need for fertilizer.

How does it help with climate change?

Farmers all over the USA are struggling with the effects of a changing climate. In 2022, 75% of US farmers said they struggled with drought conditions and in some areas, the growing season just past was the driest on record for 1,000 years. Along the banks of the Mississippi, the opposite problem – a higher water level, and frequent flooding.

Conservation tillage has benefits for both scenarios. Leaving vegetation on the surface and not disturbing the soil’s own drainage system means less surface runoff and increased soil absorbency in wet conditions, reducing the risk of flooding and soil loss due to overland flow.

This same structure means that in dry conditions, the soil is able to store more moisture, so plants have stores to draw on in drought periods. Surface vegetation protects the soil from erosion by wind. Crucially, conservation tillage means that the soil remains a carbon sink – carbon dioxide is sequestered underground, reducing emissions that are contributing to a warming planet.

Tillage parts for conservation systems

At Wearparts, we specialize in high-quality replacement tillage parts ideal for conservation tillage practices.

From our famously strong seed disc openers to ripper points, press wheels and air seeder parts, we’ve got everything you need to achieve efficient soil maintenance and planting, for reduced cost per acre and guaranteed yields. We also offer in-house hardfacing services that can extend the wearlife of our products by up to 30%.

We’re very proud to be official sponsors of the National No-Till Conference, taking place in St. Louis, Missouri from January 10-13. If you’d like to find out more about our replacement tillage parts or no-till in general, make sure you visit us there – or get in touch for more information.