Finding & Pushing No-Till Boundaries

Experiment with organic no-till leads to disappointing results but valuable insights about building on no-tillage

By: David Rourke, as interviews by Martha Mintz

A strong sense of curiosity, a high pain threshold and a short memory have likely contributed a fair amount to navigating the failures and successes I’ve experienced experimenting with zero-till — Canada's word for no-till — and beyond in my years of farming in Minto, Manitoba.

I came into farming somewhat uninitiated. When I married my farm-girl wife, Diane, at 19, the extent of my experience was driving a tractor and providing seasonal help for my uncle. I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Manitoba when my agronomy professor, Elmer Stobbe, recruited me to work with him for the summer. 

He was a weed scientist studying zero-till, and I was intrigued by agronomy. Soon I was also fascinated by zero-till. I went on to get a master’s degree in agronomy working with Dr. Stobbe on zero-till wheat. Upon graduation, Diane was keen to farm, so we rented 300 acres of farmland that my father had purchased in Minto. We also started an ag research company to continue Dr. Stobbe’s research and to help bring in more income per acre on our small piece of ground.

That was in 1983. In the 40 years since, we grew our farm to 6,000 acres before splitting off 2,000 acres to allow our son to farm independently. Our ag research company, Ag-Quest, now consists of five research stations throughout western Canada manned by 26 full-time researchers. My oldest daughter, Dana Maxell, was passionate…

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