This Farm's Worth Watching

Inside Dakota Ag

The Hoenhauses are trying no-till and cover crops in Eastern North Dakota that we've long thought was too wet to no-till.

Published on: July 19, 2011

The other day I was out by Lisbon, N.D., on a farm that’s worth watching.

Andy and Mitch Hoenhause are trying some no-till/cover crop production practices that are working so well for producers out by the Missouri River.

But the Hoenhauses farm a couple hundred miles east of the Missouri in a part of the country that many consider too wet to no-till.

The brothers are having good luck with no-till, though, especially since they started planting cover crops after wheat and field peas. The cover crops soak up extra water, which is a good thing. But perhaps more importantly, the cover crop’s live roots add structure to the soil, which helps supports the weight of tractors, planters, sprayers and combines.

Planting cover crops is also speeding up the breakdown of residue. Apparently, the cover crops are increasing the population of micro-organisms in the soil. The microbes need live roots to survive, so the longer there are live roots in the soil, the longer they live and reproduce.)

It seems to counter intuitive – add more residue to the soil to reduce residue – but apparently that is what’s going on..

The Hoenhauses says their soils are also mineralizing more nitrogen than before. They’ve increased corn yields without applying more fertilizer. They put on all the fertilizer for corn down with the seed and between the rows at planting with an air cart.

Clearly, the use of no-till and cover crops in the eastern Dakotas, where most farmers haven’t been able to no-till before, is something to keep an eye on.