When govenment's Freedom To Farm program came along, John Hilderbrand gave tenants an ultimatum as crop leases ran out— “direct seed or get out.”
Having learned about the benefits of no-tilling 2 years earlier, the Wasco, Ore., landowner was convinced that direct seeding was the right thing to do in his extremely dry fields.
When several tenants weren’t willing to give up tillage, the 75-year-old farmer went back to farming and was the first area farmer to move 100 percent to direct seeding. After the first direct seeded crop turned out well, area farmers started changing their tune about tillage.
While Hilderbrand’s fields receive 11 1/2 inches of rainfall per year in normal times, the area has been suffering from severe drought conditions in recent years. As a result, last year’s crop received only 7 inches of rain.
“When you only receive 5 inches of rain in the winter and fallow it to save 45 percent of this moisture, you have a problem,” he says. “To out-yield a fallow system, we only have to save that much moisture with a good straw mulch when direct seeding.”