Cold, Wet Soils Overcome By Far Northern No-Tiller

Joe Breker farms in the challenging climate of North Dakota, but he’s adapted his practices and equipment to succeed in long-term no-tilling.

Cold, wet soils challenge no-tillers everywhere, but they’re old hat for Joe Breker. He’s now in his 28th year of no-tilling in Havana, N.D., where the warmth doesn’t last long — it’s a 95-day maturity zone with just 2,200 to 2,300 growing degree days — and excess moisture is a problem year after year.

Breker says his area has been troubled by too much water since 1993, even though fields 100 miles west of him have been plagued by drought during the same period. In 2005, his area received 50 inches of rain during the growing season, he recalls. “That’s more than double what we should have. We don’t have the drainage in our soils to handle 50 inches. We’re flat, with heavy clay soils that are usually poorly drained.”

But Breker has adjusted his management practices and equipment and succeeded at no-tilling for nearly three decades. He’ll tell you how he makes it all work in a 4-year rotation of soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat and corn. Despite the obstacles, he can point to average yields of about 50 bushels per acre for spring wheat, 70 bushels for winter wheat, 130 to 150 bushels for corn and 35 to 40 bushels for soybeans.

Smoothing The Fields

Like many veteran no-tillers, Breker knows that preparations for spring seeding begin with proper field management during harvest. But dealing with wet fields, even fields with well developed soil structure enhanced by more than 20 years of no-tilling, in the fall is one…

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