Abstract The energy efficiency of different implements and tillage systems for winter wheat in Sweden was examined. Mouldboard ploughing was compared with different ploughless tillage systems (chisel plough, disc, disc-press) and direct drilling on a clay and a silt loam soil during three years. Fuel consumption was measured for all tillage operations, including seedbed preparation and sowing. Energy balances were calculated, based on the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels in crop production. Specific draught (draught per cross-sectional area of soil) was highest for the disc-press implement, while mouldboard ploughing gave the lowest specific surface (surface area per kg soil). Total energy requirement for tillage ranged from 0.6 to 2.8 GJ ha −1 on the clay soil and 0.5 to 1.5 GJ ha −1 on the silt loam. Yield of winter wheat in the ploughless tillage and mouldboard ploughing systems was similar when oats or barley were grown as preceding crops. Growing winter wheat after winter wheat caused yield losses in treatments with reduced tillage intensity, especially direct drilling. Overall energy use in tillage as a proportion of total energy use for crop production ranged from 5% for direct drilling on the silt loam soil to 25% for mouldboard ploughing on the clay. The energy input in tillage was low compared with the energy in the harvested crop and thus energy efficiency, expressed as energy gain, depended mainly on crop yield and not on tillage intensity. For Swedish conditions, a small increase in energy gain might be expected for ploughless tillage compared with mouldboard ploughing when winter wheat is grown with a good preceding crop, but a lower energy gain when winter wheat is grown after winter wheat.