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Failing A Requirement For North Dakota No-Tiller

Constant change, integration and diversification not only saved Gabe Brown’s farm, but also helped it thrive in tough conditions.

For North Dakota no-tiller Gabe Brown, failure isn’t an option — it’s a requirement. That’s because Brown believes constant change drives an ever-improving system.

“We want to fail at something on this farm every year,” says the Bismarck-area producer, who crops 1,500 acres. “If I don’t fail at something, I’m not trying enough new things.”

And try he does. Brown’s acres have a research farm feel. A trip up the driveway treats visitors to more than a dozen different crops from corn to radishes spread through only a few fields.

Brown raises alfalfa, peas, corn, sunflowers, barley, turnips, radishes, lentils, hairy vetch, red clover, sweet clover, sugar beets, buckwheat, oats, cowpeas, millet, sorghum, Sudan grass — and probably a few other crops he forgot to list.

These crops are mixed together in complex polycultures that Brown has created through trial and error for maximum benefit to soil health, production and his bottom line.

But the city-raised Brown didn’t come by his adventurous agronomic spirit easily; nature gave him a not-so-gentle push.

Brown and his wife, Shelly, purchased their farm from her parents in 1991. The land was conventionally tilled and produced small grains.

After reading about no-till, Brown decided to jump in with both feet. In 1993, he sold the tillage equipment, bought a John Deere 750 no-till drill and went completely no-till. He also took his first foray into diversification by seeding field peas.

Challenged By Failure

In 1995, Mother Nature dealt the Browns a nasty blow, hailing out…

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