More new ideas from Beck
Dwayne Beck — a South Dakota State University ag expert, no-till innovator and manager of the Dakota Lakes Research farm in Pierre, S.D. — can be counted on to surprise his audience with new ideas about how to farm in the Dakotas.
• No-tiller Dwayne Beck continues to innovate.
• Grain to grass is among his latest projects.
• Seeding spring wheat in the winter looks good.
Here are a couple of ideas he proposed at the recent South Dakota Agribusiness Agronomy Conference in Sioux Falls:
Grain and grass
“I’m building organic matter at the soil surface, but I’m still losing organic matter at the 4-foot depth — even with 10 years of continuous no-till corn,” he notes. While corn has an impressive root system, it doesn’t go as deep as native grass plant roots, he says.
The deep-level organic matter loss has prompted Beck to try a “grass and grain” cropping system like farmers use in Australia. Grain is no-tilled into switchgrass in the spring while the grass is still dormant.
Switchgrass is a native, warm-season prairie grass that doesn’t grow vigorously until the weather begins to warm up. The grass isn’t killed with herbicide or tillage during the growing season. When the spring wheat is harvested, the grass starts growing through the stubble.
Because the switchgrass roots are never disturbed, it may be possible to build deep organic matter, Beck says.
Till to loosen or to pack?
“An engineer friend of mine who builds roads asked me why farmers still tilled their fields,” Beck says. “I told him I that I really didn’t know. I no-till.
"Maybe it was because they thought they were breaking up compaction. The engineer thought about it a while and replied, ‘I disk and drive on a roadbed to make it hard … one of us is wrong.’”
Seed spring wheat in December
“I like dormant seeding spring wheat,” he says, referring to placing seed in the ground in the winter. When it warms up in the spring, the seeds swell with moisture, and plants begin growing weeks before fieldwork or planting can begin.
“Some of the best yields I’ve had I’ve seeded in December. It’s even easy to seed through snow, as long as it’s a dry snow.”
Beck and his colleagues are squeezing the oil out of canola and using it to heat the shop. Next year, they hope to convert their tractor to run on the vegetable oil they are producing with the cold press.
“We’re trying to reduce our use of fossil fuels,” Beck explains. “We hope to one day get to a zero carbon footprint.”
This article published in the January, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.