Foster Creek Conservation District
Foster Creek Conservation District

Cost Benefit Analysis: Direct vs. Conventional Tillage

Foster Creek CD compared the costs of conventional tillage to direct seeding with the help of Kate Painter PhD, an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho, knowledgeable about farm economics.


We completed this economic comparison with producers and operators participating in our first direct seed grant awarded by the Washington Department of Ecology. Dr. Painter interviewed four participants and asked about their costs of chemicals, equipment, labor and their yields over the duration of the program for their direct seed (DS) and conventional tilled (CT) fields. The results included:

  • Average CT cost $76/acre and DS cost $65/acre. Pesticide costs were higher in DS and machinery cost were higher for CT. (in graph, VC=variable cost; FC= fixed cost)
  • On average DS was similarly profitable at $140/acre while CT was $136/acre when comparing returns over variable costs. Producer 3 had greater DS yield, but most producers had similar yields for DS and CT at this early stage.


  • Transitioning to DS was hard because of purchasing expensive new equipment or the scarcity of equipment to rent. After completing the transition, operating costs fell. 

Direct seed tillage should increase the soil’s ability to hold water, reduce erosion, and gain organic matter. As Dr. Painter wrote in her summary, DS offers long term benefits in soil health that exceed costs for individual producers. We will be running more analyses next year to better reflect the cost and benefits of direct seed vs. conventional tillage as this is a small sample.


Click here to read the complete report. There is still room for producers and operators interested in trying direct seed through our third Washington Department of Ecology grant. If you are interested, please contact Amanda Ward at 509-449-2158.

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Foster Creek Conservation District 203 S Rainier Waterville, WA 98858 509-888-6372 © Foster Creek CD