What soil ecosystem services and economic benefits does 50 years of no-till provide in contrast to other tillage practices in Southern Illinois?

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,978.00
Projected End Date: 12/30/2020
Grant Recipient: Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Amir Sadeghpour
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, no-till, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    What soil ecosystem services and economic benefits does 50 years of no-till provide in contrast to other tillage practices in Southern Illinois?


    Adoption of no-till practices is slow among growers in Southern Illinois and surveys in Illinois and the Midwest indicate growers usually use tillage during the corn growing season and often no-till plant soybean. While benefits of continuous no-till are known, holistic efforts to look at soil quality indicators, environmental quality, and farm economics in Southern Illinois is lacking to further help with the adoption of no-till, especially during corn growing seasons. Utilizing a long-term tillage trial established in 1970, our goal is to answer multiple questions including (1) Does soil C sequestration saturate after 50-years of no-till?; (2) Does a no-till system after 50-years benefit air quality compared to a chisel disk system and what is the effect on nitrous oxide emissions?; (3) What soil health indicators explain crop yield?; (4) What factors explain soil aggregation and nitrous oxide emissions?; (5) Does no-till profitability, including ecosystem benefits, outweigh possible yield losses during wet and favorable growing seasons? The long-term study is a randomized complete block design with four replications. Treatments include (i) CT using moldboard plow to 15-20 cm; (ii) RT using spring disking followed by chisel-point cultivator to 15-20 cm; (iii) NT without disturbance to the soil, excluding a planter, for 50 years in 2019; and (iv) AT two-yr of NT followed by one-yr of MP. Sub-plot fertility treatments include: (i) no NPK; (ii) N only; and (iii) NPK application as broadcast. We will evaluate soil aggregate size distribution, aggregate stability, soil compaction, bulk density, microbial community, soil nematode communities, soil N availability, soil moisture, soil temperature, nitrous oxide emissions, and finally, carbon (C) fractions across depth. A comprehensive extension effort will be implemented including three fact sheets on soil health indicators, a YouTube video, one field day each year at Belleville Research Center at Southern Illinois University, and one presentation at a national conference. As a result of this project, we anticipate 40% of corn and soybean growers in Illinois will know about no-till benefits and consequences of tilling the soil after 2-yrs of no-till and 20% will adopt or show interest in further adopting continuous no-till. Our outreach activities with the help of the Illinois Farm Bureau will ensure an increased knowledge to growers, and adoption of continuous no-till among corn and soybean growers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    A two-year trial will be conducted with 4 replications to establish which tillage system provides the most soil ecosystem services, benefit air quality, and ensure farm profitability. Three agronomy factsheets and a journal article will be written, in addition to one YouTube video and two field days. Of all corn and soybean growers in Illinois, 40% will become aware of the benefits of no-till in comparison with other tillage systems. We will share the results in year-two through work and communication with consultants, extension educators and fellow farmers, as well as factsheets and a YouTube video. We will pre-survey growers to assess their perception of no-till system in both corn and soybean. We will post-survey growers in our field days and also conduct a follow up postcard survey (50 farmers) assessing intent to use project results to evaluate if the percentage of adopting a no-till system increased as a result of our outreach activities. We have initiated training an undergraduate student as a part of graduate student mentorship approach. The undergraduate student’s experience with the research will be documented in our website (https://asadeghpour.com/amir-sadeghpour/) and at local websites (https://thesouthern.com/news/local/siu/student-focuses-on-increasing-corn-production-while-making-life-easier/article_86417cb8-e2f1-588c-9ba7-096d6635564a.html).

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.