A Report from the No-till On The Plains Bus Tour

A Report from the No-till On The Plains Bus Tour

July 1, 2009

Photo of Dan Forgey at Cronin Farms
Dan Forgey, manager of Cronin Farms, tells about the diverse crop rotations they use to spread risk and the workload, allowing more acres to be farmed with less machinery and labor. Winter wheat will be no-till planted after these field peas are harvested. (Photos by Paul Jasa)
Photo of Dwayne Beck at Dakota Lakes
Dwayne Beck, manager of Dakota Lakes Research Farm (on crutches in center), gives a tour of the facility, describing its no-till crop management and the diverse rotations and cover crops used in continuous no-till systems. While the research is conducted by South Dakota State University, the farm is owned by a group of area producers interested in no-till farming systems and water management.

In mid-June I had the opportunity along with 26 other Nebraska famers and agronomists to tour no-till operations and visit with no-till researchers in South Dakota. The tour was conducted by the No-till On The Plains organization (www.notill.org/) and the Nebraska No-till Cadre and partially funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund.

The tour was especially rewarding for me since I am originally from Potter County South Dakota, home of Cronin Farms, one of our key stops. Actually, we were neighbors. I grew up creating dust on our side of the fence-line while watching Cronins stir dust on their side.

Moisture is short in that part of the country with an average annual rainfall of 18.5 inches, so summer fallow accounted for about 25% of the acres. When I was growing up, we raised primarily small grains and corn at that time. Raising a crop was kind of hit and miss depending on how and when the rain fell.

That has all changed now as a direct response to the benefits of continuous no-till.

It didn't happen overnight though.

Dwayne Beck, South Dakota State University professor and director of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, is credited with starting this farming system evolution in the area in the early 90s. His influence is readily evident as you visit with area producers who refer to “Beck” with great respect and admiration.

No-till has created a productive environment that has allowed the area to now crop 100% of the acres instead of the 75% being cropped before.

It also has eliminated the dust storms — both man-made and by nature. The crops are good too with winter wheat yields reaching 100 bu/ac and dryland corn yields averaging 120 to 140 bu/ac. Soybeans, sunflower, field peas, and various forages are also common crops successfully grown in the area as well as a host of different crops which are grown as cover crops. These include radishes, turnips, vetches, lentil, millet, clovers, and more.

Cover crops are key to the transition of the soil characteristics that make this change in productivity possible. While skeptics say that raising cover crops in addition to normal crops will do nothing more than use valuable moisture, local producers have found just the opposite. Cover crops can actually "preserve" soil moisture while adding organic matter and nitrogen (if a legume), and sustaining important biological life in the soil.

 

The Take-Home Message for Us Nebraskans

So what does this have to do with irrigated crop production in Nebraska?

 

It has everything to do with it. The no-till practices and principles used in dryland South Dakota can be adapted to this environment and system. We can become more efficient in our machinery use, our water use, and our man-hours.

Although size isn't always an indication of success, I'll use Cronin Farms as an example. Their cropping operation is 9000 acres. They raise 10 crops and do this with one tractor, one planter, one drill, one sprayer and one combine. All managed and operated by two men, Dan Forgey, farm manager, and Mike Cronin, co-owner. That's efficiency.

 

Upcoming No-till Expo

Producers, please consider attending the July 15 Whirlwind No-Till Expo organized by No-till On The Plains and the Nebraska No-till Cadre, and partially funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund. It will be filled with power-packed, hands-on learning featuring expert speakers as well as experienced local no-tillers from the area. The morning sessions will be held at the Chris Clausen farm southeast of Clarkson and the lunch and afternoon sessions will be at the Howells Ballroom.

For more information on the event see the story in the June 26 CropWatch.

Jim Schneider
Extension Educator, Hamilton County