What I've Learned From No-Tilling: When Wet Or Dry, No-Till Rotations, Covers And Cattle Are The Answer

The Cowans adopted no-till because of drought, but found intense rotations and cover crops helped them deal with today’s excess moisture.

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NAME: Bill and Nina Cowan

LOCATION: Hartney, Manitoba


CROPS: Corn, soybeans, yellow peas, spring wheat, winter wheat, sunflowers, fall rye, canola, alfalfa and perennial ryegrass

My father, Art, truly stumbled into no-till by pure happenstance. In the early 1980s he decided he needed to get away for a day or two so he took a drive to North Dakota.

When he checked into a random hotel for the night, he noticed a sign for a zero-till conference.

He had accidentally come across one of the early meetings of the Manitoba-North Dakota Zero-Tillage Farmers Association. There were probably only 30 members at the conference, likely the early founders, and only a couple speakers.

Dad dropped in on the conference. One of the speakers got a standing ovation and Dad said it was the best speaker he’d ever heard. He came home and said we should give no-till a try.

At the time, we were farming in a fairly dry cycle. It made sense economically, from a fuel-savings standpoint, and agronomically, from a moisture-saving perspective, to give it a shot.

Our first foray into no-till, or minimum-till at that point really, was using a Bourgault air seeder with a shovel opener to direct-seed canola into winter wheat stubble. We soon switched to a narrow knife opener to disturb less soil.

By the time the real drought hit in 1988, we had seen the benefits of reduced tillage and started no-tilling exclusively on the whole farm. When…

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John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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