Before tilling, consider whether it is really needed. Conventionally tilled row crops may require 4 to 6 gallons of diesel fuel per acre for all field operations, while a no-till grown crop will use about half that amount. If tillage is required or desired, consider using a single-pass tillage system prior to planting and take care not to till deeper than necessary. Or it may be pos-sible to combine field operations into a single pass, such as tilling and applying fertilizer with a strip-till implement. Strip-till systems till only the row zone where the crop will be planted. It has the advantage of reducing tillage, leaving cover between rows to reduce erosion and moisture loss and the soil warms faster in the exposed tilled area in the spring than with no-tilled systems. In ridge-till systems, cultivation equipment creates ridges, which are then planted on the following year. Ridges have the advantage of shedding water and warming up faster in the spring.

Chisel plow operation at six- or eight-inch depth requires less drawbar pull and tractor energy than operation of a subsoiler or ripper at depths of a foot or more [1]. Drawbar pull is directly related to tillage depth for many specific tillage implements. Aggressive primary tillage with a moldboard plow or subsoiler often require around 1.7 gal diesel fuel per acre or more whereas chisel plowing may require about 1.1 gal per acre depending on depth, soil conditions, and speed.

An Ohio state study compared yields and financial returns for various tillage methods in Ohio and found that farms using ridge-till had higher yields and returns on investment; however no-till yielded higher net farm income for corn, soybeans and wheat production [3].  Table 1 lists the typical diesel fuel for different field operations [2].

Following the lubrication schedule as outlined in the operator’s manual for any machine affects energy use and avoids premature wear. Maintenance on tillage equipment, including bearings, scrapers, or cutting edges can affect soil manipulation and drawbar pull. Good planter operation involves a pre-field check of seed and fertilizer metering components along with in-field checks of seed placement, proper operation of soil-engaging components, and periodic lubrication.

Table 1 - Approximate fuel require for field operations Source: M. Hanna, 2001