Thursday, 11 July 2013

Dakota Lakes Research Farm

After breakfast Tom Sewell (no-till Tom) and myself headed out to the Dakota Lakes Research Farm to meet Dwayne Beck.  Dwayne is the Farm Manager, Chief Scientist and Tour Guide at the farmer owned and run research centre.  We hopped into the car on arrival and headed out to a field meeting about combinable peas hosted by the County Extension Officer, Ruth Beck (Dwayne's Wife).  The State used to grow more than 40,000 acres of combinable peas but now the total stands at 4,000 acres, but the area is growing.  A pea/lentil/chickpeas splitting, processing and bagging plant has just organised funding, (backed by the Federal Government) to build a facility in the local town of Harrold.
We drove over to Harrold to look at further development in the Agricultural Industries with a look around a huge grain/corn storage facility.  There is space to load trains with 120 rail cars, each capable of carrying 80 tonnes each.  A possible 9,600T could be shipped out on each train. Dwayne has concerns that it's a good way of shipping nutrients out of the state, which I would have to agree with. Utilising the railway was a Monsanto distribution hub where Roundup is delivered, also by the rail car load.  Each of these held 78,000L and there was at least 8 of them!  Agriculture is huge in America.
After lunch we headed back to the farm.  The farm has about 480mm of rain per year with 1/3 of that coming in the form of snow during the winter.  Moisture capture and conservation are key reasons for the no-till system.  No cultivation, other than seeding, means the macro-pores the 'night crawlers' create are not disturbed, so drainage into the soil profile is fast and efficient.  The water seeps down these tubes in the soil until they find a dry area and then move over soaking the soil at depth, rather than running off.  This was well demonstrated when 37.5mm of rain is applied in 6 minutes and you can walk on the field in your shoes.  I know because I did it!  Cover crops especially Linseed (Flax) also play a roll in providing little snow fences stopping snow blow across the Northern Great Plains during the winter.  The crop residue also plays a vital role in recirculating the soil nutrients, keeping the soil cool, actually fairly damp, and by protecting the soil surface from wind erosion.  The trash will disappear in a relatively short space of time.  These issues have created many problems for the area in the past but now with this method of crop establishment, yields are increasing, the environment in improving and farmers are actually making money.
The soybeans above have been direct drilled into corn (maize) stubble's after a cover crop of fox tail millet and oats and looked great.  
A similar story for the maize shown above.  Direct drilled as a second crop of maize.  These will be followed by two years of wheat (potentially one winter and one spring) and then a broad leaved crop of soybean, flax or peas.  The rotation is key and is one of the main reasons for the success of the system.  We just need to work out a way to use some of these techniques in the UK, with the crops we are able to grow.  There should be space for a perennial crop in the UK system that will occupy the soil for more than a year, draw up deeper nutrients and create organic matter.  Just need to work out which one it is!
Many thanks to Dwayne and the Dakota Lakes Research Farm for organising the day for Tom and myself.  We really enjoyed it and have come away, as normal, asking more questions than finding answers!

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