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No-till shines

It’s not too wet or too cool in eastern North Dakota to no-till, says Tim Haakenson.

No-till is widely used in the central and western Dakotas. But it’s still rare in the east, particularly in North Dakota, where soil temperatures and the length of the growing season are a major concern.

But Haakenson farms near Aneta, N.D., on the edge of the Red River Valley, and he says the soil- and money-saving system is working for him.

A Manitoba-North Dakota Zero Tillage Association director, Haakenson started no-tilling in 2002. He usually grows canola, soybeans, corn, field peas, spring wheat and winter wheat.

“I’ve been pleased with the yields,” he says.

Key Points

No-till works in eastern North Dakota, despite weather challenges.

Yields for Aneta, N.D., farmer have been good, and labor costs are much lower.

He’s had no more prevented planting program acres than most of his neighbors.

While his herbicide costs have risen 10% to 15% compared to conventional tillage, he’s saved money overall because he’s reduced fuel, machinery and labor costs 25% to 30%.

“It takes extra patience and flexibility to no-till,” he says. “You have to wait for Mother Nature to cooperate to begin planting, and you need to be ready to change crops if it gets too late to plant your first choice.”

Might be drier

The idea that it’s too wet in eastern North Dakota to no-till may be a myth, Haakenson says. No-till improves water infiltration so much that no-till fields actually seem to dry out more quickly. It’s what convinced him to switch in 2002.

His wife, Jill, who then worked for the Natural Resources Conservative Service, had organized a no-till tour. The night before the tour it rained 3 inches. But the next morning they could walk through the no-till field. A conventionally tilled field across the road was too muddy to venture into.

“It was an eye-opener,” Haakenson says.

Like everyone else, he hasn’t been able to plant some of his land in recent years due to excessive moisture, but he hasn’t had to enroll any more acres in the prevented planting program than most of his neighbors.

As in the western Dakotas, it takes the right equipment, crops and rotations to make no-till work, he says.


BRIGHT WAY: Canola bloomed early last year for Tim Haakenson, who has no-tilled since 2002. He says the weather isn’t too cool or too wet to make no-till work on his eastern North Dakota farm. You just have to be patient about fieldwork and flexible in crop choices.

This article published in the May, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.