Farming is challenging in northern South Dakota. Winters are frigid and windy; summers are hot and dry and managing moisture is critical. Long dry spells from June to August can cause crops in poorly managed soils to burn up while days with too much precipitation at one time lead to soil erosion that leaves a lasting mark on the landscape.
No-tilling is critical to managing these extremes, says Levi Goetz. “Our growing season is so unpredictable,” Goetz says. “The date when the ground is warm enough to start planting to our first frost date change so much. It’s hard to plan around that.”
Goetz has farmed with neighbor Steve Sawinsky since 2007, when Goetz was in high school in Selby, S.D. Sawinsky asked Goetz if he wanted to help on his operation that been no-tilled since the early 1990s. After learning how to run the combine, Goetz was hooked. In 2014, after college, Goetz returned to the 4,000-acre farm as farm manager.
Goetz says no-till helps them hold onto the moisture they get.
“Out here, moisture is almost always our limiting factor. For us, it’s just unreal how well no-till works to manage it.”
The area averages 18 inches of precipitation annually, mostly from April to late June, followed by a very dry period through late August. The rains resume in September.
“With no-till, the soil’s water holding capacity soil changes,” Goetz says. “It’s incredible how fast we can get into the field after a big rain event.”