In March 1993 in Grainews there appeared a piece by a certain soils columnist titled “A Quiet Revolution in Crop Production.” It concluded that within the next two decades we’d see a revolution in the way we farmed.

It came to pass much as predicted — but what made it happen was work in farm workshops, mostly in Saskatchewan where the need for zero till was the greatest. Openers were needed that would get seed and fertilizer into the soil with almost no soil disturbance.

1993 Column

A March 1993 column from Grainews. Photo: Les Henry

One of the early ones out of the gate was Jim Halford at Indian Head. My late brother-in-law David Wilson helped with welding, et cetera. Even before air seeders they were modifying ordinary hoe drills with openers that were ridged and would seed straight into established grass. David showed me that system when we were there for a family visit.

By and by, Jim Halford’s Conserva Pak zero-till air seeder sported seed and fertilizer openers that would do the job with minimum soil disturbance. The Conserva Pak even found its way to Australia.

Members of the Beaujot family, from Langbank, brought the Seed Hawk and Seedmaster to market. The Seed Hawk unit would lift up a section when a headland came along, and this avoided overlap. It was built with a light frame and would fold up nicely for road travel, although the light iron meant that a welder had to be handy as the years rolled on.

My renter at the Dundurn farm uses an original Seed Hawk and it does a great job. You can see a photo from the 2022 crop here. His most recent canola field had seed spaced as if it had been placed by hand with tweezers and produced a very uniform crop.

The Bourgault family at St. Brieux and the Morris family at Yorkton developed two other Saskatchewan zero-till seeder companies.

Over time, almost all of the Saskatchewan farm family zero-till seeder manufacturers have been bought out by big companies such as John Deere in the U.S. and Vaderstad in Europe.

Canola Crop

This is the canola crop at Dundurn on June 22, 2022. It yielded 34 bushels an acre on only 5.4 inches of rain in May, June and July. The soil was bone-dry in fall but snow and the uniform stand were what grew the crop. My renter also knew enough to slow down when in big swaths, to let the combine separate as well as thresh. My yield equations predicted a yield of 14 bu./ac. for dry soil and only 5.4 inches of rain. The difference was snow — big drifts that soaked into the dry soil when they melted. Photo: Les Henry

Blow dirt in the air in May is now a piece of history. To see that, one needs to visit a city construction site with bare soil that can drift.

The Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA) had a big role in spreading the word about zero till. In June each year it held field days at farms with various models of seeders making passes to demonstrate what they could do. There were often so many half-ton trucks at those field days that parking was an issue.

Why Saskatchewan?

Manitoba mostly has adequate rain and grows big crops with big straw left behind, requiring special vertical-tillage implements to deal with the straw without plugging. Corn is a special challenge.

Alberta irrigates much of its dry area, but does need special attention in some dry areas that are not irrigated. The majority of cropland needing zero till, though, is in Saskatchewan.

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