Experiences with Direct Seeding and Annual Cropping in
the Low and Intermediate Rainfall Zones
I lease 5600 acres which are owned by family members of the person who homesteaded the ground 120 years ago. I have farmed this ground for 26 years and my father farmed the same acreage for 24 years before me.
This is a no-till conference; therefore, I will be very brief about my past evil tillage practices. I am in a traditional wheat/summerfallow rotation. I am situated in a 10"- 12" annual rainfall area. The soils are predominantly Ritzville sandy loam soils. That's enough of the past.
I started searching for something different in 1985. I desired to get away from subsidized farming. I started with canola and expanded into perennial grasses for seed. With these successes ongoing, I went to my landlords five years ago and asked what they wanted to do with their land in the future. They all responded, keep it in production. Therefore, I needed to develop a program that could be sustainable for the next twenty years.
The environmental pressures of the future frightened me. The economical pressures of producing for a global economy posed new challenges. My preference was to produce high quality value added products, not bulk commodities with no quality preference. To meet this desire, I was invited to view Dr. Beck's program in Pierre, South Dakota in June, 1995. I was very intrigued by what I saw. His program answered so many of my questions on how to farm the future environmentally and economically. After much studying and preparation, I went back to my landlords and asked them for seven years of Dr. Beck's system to see if we could make it work. That time line was based on the seven years of transition payments providing them an insurance policy to be used when we failed. You see,.I expect to have failures. The second reason for seven years was to give the no-till a chance to achieve it's positive soil quality and water saving properties. The landlords answer can be summed up by one simple statement..."You won't know until you try". so, off I went.
I started on Friday, the 13th of October, 1995 by planting winter wheat in some conventional spring wheat residue with a 750 John Deer drill rented from Adams County Conservation District. Since then, I have grown to 3200 acres of no-till intense rotation annual crop production in 1998. I do not recommend this method of transition. I am a ready... fire... aim... person. You must be committed to the system to make it work but you may want to grow more slowly.
The question remains..."How does this system get me to the future in agriculture production?" First environmentally.
1. The day I start no-tilling, wind erosion is zero. Therefore, no PM-10 micron or less emissions from my farm.
2. The systems intent is to use all water and fertilizer each year, therefore, no groundwater contamination.
3. Water erosion will be reduced and eventually controlled with proper rotation intensity.
4. Residue management is achieved with rotation, therefore, no burning.
5. Disease and weed control are done with rotation rather than more costly or less available chemicals.
6. Drought is overcome with improved soil tilth and water holding capacity due to long-term no-till.
7. Water use is also managed by having low, medium and high water use crops in each of the four major crop categories.
These are just some of the expected changes environmentally that I feel are necessary to farm in the future. Now, this system answers the economic challenges.
1. Diversity - rotation...rotation...rotation.
a. This will allow me to capture global opportunities. I am always ready to seed any crop the marketplace wants.
b. The diversity spreads risks to single commodity cycles.
c. It spreads equipment pressures. i.e. 60 days to seed and 90 days to harvest. The diversity also reduces my future capital expenditures. i.e. capitalize a no-till system versus a conventional; low horsepower tractor versus a high horsepower tractor; one combine versus two combines for 3200 acres; tillage tools versus none.
d. Sanitation is achieved through rotation rather than chemicals. These environmental and economical changes will not occur overnight, but with commitment and perseverance, I believe they are achievable.
I have touched ten crops with my no-till intense rotation annual crop system in two years. I will attempt through slides to show you a small section of the past two years.
First, my equipment for 3200 acres of no-till: low horsepower tractor, ultra low disturbance fertilizer unit, 30' John Deere no-till drills, a sprayer and a combine.
1st slide - No-till spring wheat. Previous crop in 1996 was no-till spring wheat, 1995 was conventional winter wheat. (May 27th X 2, June 24 X 2, July 20th and October 28 X 2)
2nd slide - Mustard seed crop. Previous crop 1996 was no-till spring wheat, 1995 conventional winter wheat. (May 27 X 2, June 24 X 2 and August 2 X 2)
3rd slide - Field corn. Previous crop 1996 was no-till spring wheat, 1995 was conventional winter wheat. (May 27 X 2, June 24 X 1, and August 2 X 2. These are Cargill 1077, a dwarf variety of corn. The next two slides are Cenex 154 X 2.)
4th slide - Safflower. (May 27 X 2, June 24 X 2, August 2 X 1 and September 30 X 1.
I want to finish the slides with the greatest shift of paradigms in Lincoln County - corn harvest (slide) and residue left (slide). You can see the 1996 spring wheat stubble and 1997 corn residue.
Let me close my talk with a few quotes from Carlos Crovetto's book "Stubble Over the Soil." He states, "I believe that my work like all the agriculturists' in the world is the most important work in the development of mankind." "The grain is for the farmer, the residue is for the land."
Two other quotes were taken from the November 8, 1997 Pro Farmer. "Those that we would like to see continue in agriculture must be gently coaxed into not just accepting change, but reveling in it as an exciting adventure towards the next frontier in agriculture." "Maintain the idea that you are a link in a proud family legacy of farmers that embraced change and technology for the support of your family, the glory of your Creator and the betterment of all mankind."