Ten years ago, Dave and Larry Diedrich of Elkton, SD, rejected tillage for no-till. Five years later, the brothers changed from no-till to zone-till. Their plan enables them to use fewer machines, save more soil and make more money over their 3,500 acres.

“The switch we've made has been about more than no-till and zone-till,” Dave says. “It's also been about equipment management.” He notes that, whereas many farmers have about $200 to $250/acre invested in equipment costs, they spend just $85 to $90/acre on equipment. “We have nice equipment, but we don't have that much of it,” Dave says.

Spade show

The Diedrichs converted to no-till after seeing a demonstration at a 1990 Redfield, SD, field day. Dwayne Beck, a South Dakota State University agricultural researcher, plunged a spade into a no-till field. Instead of a dense, thick slab, the mellow soil unearthed by the spade crumbled.

“When I saw that, something clicked in my head,” Dave recalls. “Under no-till, the soil is really structured and porous.”

When Dave returned to the farm, he and Larry decided to convert to no-till. After they no-tilled 200 acres of soybeans in 1991, they switched to 100% no-till in 1992. The brothers merged the air drums from an IH 80 Cyclo planter and mounted them on a John Deere 750 no-till drill so that they could plant corn and soybeans with the same planter.

New strategy

In 1996, the Diedrichs revamped their strategy by switching to zone-till. “The residue would just kill us with corn under no-till,” Dave says.

The Diedrichs solved the problem by making a pass in the fall with a zone-till implement that places dry fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia. A toolbar equipped with placement knives is linked to a Tyler Zodiac that houses dry fertilizer and an anhydrous ammonia tank. The fertilizer placement knives leave a 3-in. strip in the soil. The following spring, the Diedrichs plant into the strip. While planting corn, planter-mounted Yetter Residue Managers clear a black zone in the strip that enhances germination. During soybean planting, the residue managers also clear residue that would cause hair-pinning.

The Diedrichs also now use a John Deere 7300 planter to seed corn and a 16-row, 22-in.-row soybean planter. “It was also hard to cover all of our ground with just one planter,” Dave says.

Their equipment line also includes a 1978 Steiger 4-wd tractor, two Brent grain wagons, two front-wheel-assist 7230 and 7250 International tractors, a Case IH 2188 combine and a remodeled sprayer that originally was used for spraying lawns.

Dave uses an unconventional implement — a power parachute — to aerially scout crops. “It helped us stay in no-till during wet years in 1992, 1993 and 1995,” he says. “I thought our no-till was bad, but from the air, I could see that conventional tillage was struggling too.”