Rotations in No-till Dryland Farming

Rick Bieber
Farmer – North Central South Dakota
Produces: Wheat, Corn, Soybeans, Flax, Safflowers, Peas & Alfalfa

  1. CROPS
    1. Year 1 Wheats a cool season grass.
      1. 400 to 600 acres of spring wheat. (10 days seeding)
        (1.5 million population)
      2. Medium roots and medium water-use.
      3. Planting: late March to early April.
      4. Harvesting: early August.
    2. YEAR 2 Wheats
      1. 400 to 600 acres of winter wheat. (1 million population)
      2. Medium roots and medium water-use.
      3. Planting: late September to early October.
      4. Harvesting: late July.
    3. Year 3 Corn, a warm season grass.
      1. 400 to 600 acres.
      2. 1000 plants for every 5 bushels of expected yield.
      3. Deep roots and high water-use.
      4. Planting: late April to early May.
      5. Harvesting: October.
    4. YEAR 4 Broadleaf, a cool or warm season
      1. 400 to 600 acres.
      2. Wide variety from shallow to deep roots
      3. Medium to high water-use.
      4. Planting: late March to late May.
      5. Harvesting: July to September.
    5. Total planted/harvested acres 2200 to 2800.
    1. Growing crops. The best (and cheapest) weed control is a thick, thick, healthy crop, planted into unlike residue.
    2. Make residues work like a crop canopy.
    3. Different Crops allow for different herbicide programs. Use this to your advantage. Use different modes of action to prevent resistance.
    1. Planting is spread out more evenly, allowing each crop to be planted in the proper window without high equipment costs.
    2. Spraying season is more manageable.
    3. Harvesting is spread out. Handle more acres with less machinery.
  4. RISK
    1. Bad weather at the wrong time for one crop, may be perfect weather for another.
    2. Financial risks are much less because the overhead machinery costs are very minimal, considering the acreage being farmed.
    3. Not at the mercy of one market.
    1. Water saved through no-till is like money, it’s only good if used properly. If not used properly it can create all kinds of havoc. (Saline seeps)
    2. Must increase cropping intensity to use water saved through no-till. Different corp roots in different soil levels are pulling water and nutrients from different levels also.
    3. Proper intensity depends on:
      1. Weather -- One must be flexible enough to allow changes in rotation. Example: Corn-to-millet. High water-use to low water-use but both are warm season grasses.
      2. Soils
        1. Some hold more water than others. Good soils use higher water-use rotations.
        2. Sandy-Course Soils
          Poorer soils use lower water-use rotations.
    4. Profitability
      1. Year 1 Wheat on Broadleaf.
        1. Excellent profit.
        2. Little disease pressures.
        3. Better yields than fallow.
      2. Year 2 Wheat on Wheat.
        1. Most challenging.
        2. Often high disease pressures.
        3. 10 to 15% less yield than Year 1.
      3. Year 3 Corn on Wheat.
        1. The only way to grow corn profitably.
        2. Good yields.
        3. Very little disease pressures.
        4. Little or no insect pressures.
      4. Year 4 Broadleaf on corn stalks.
        1. Profits, or at Least: break even.
        2. Diseases: breaking year for wheat.
        3. Keep soils healthier than fallow.
    5. Restrictions of Ag Production
      1. Political (Governmental Restrictions)
      2. Social (Coffee shop talk and neighborhood ridicule)
      3. Economical (Landlords and bankers)
      4. Environmental (No rain or too much at one time)

      IF ALL these restrictions were eliminated,

      When eliminating tillage and fallow, one can increase crops. Through good rotations and more intense management, profits will increase. When the profits increase, one is willing to take more risks and use a more intense rotation, and thus, will increase the profits, making this a cycle that occurs over and over.

    6. You will make mistakes.
      1. You did and will do with tillage.
      2. I did and do with no-tillage. Not everything works all the time.
      3. A mistake this year may be the best decision next year.

      I can and occasionally do waste fuel and fertilizer, but I cannot buy time and water. NO-TILL SAVES TIME AND WATER, ROTATION MANAGES TIME AND WATER.