Oech family utilizes no-till technology to renew their farm landDarrell Oech’s grandfather, George, came to southwestern North Dakota in 1906 from Winona, Minn.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
DICINSON - Darrell Oech’s grandfather, George, came to southwestern North Dakota in 1906 from Winona, Minn.
In 1907, his first crop yielded nearly 100 bushels to the acre, an outstanding bumper crop by today’s standards.
“He was able to raise almost 100 bushels an acre with no inputs, just seed,” Oech said. “To get that same production today we have to add all kinds of inputs, which tells me that that native prairie resource is something we need to try to mimic.”
Oech has tried his hardest to return the land on his family farm to that native prairie state, while keeping current with new technology.
Darrell took over the family farm when his father, Roy, passed away in 1965 at the age of 54.
Oech had spent the years prior completing a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota and going to work for the space program in Huntsville, Ala. He hadn’t really given taking over the family farm much thought.
“I didn’t know he was going to pass away,” Oech said. “I knew he was looking to retire. It wasn’t really expected (taking over)…but being the only son, I guess it was something that was there if I chose to do that.”
At that time there was a lot of enthusiasm in agriculture; cattle prices were strong and so were commodity prices.
Darrel and his wife, Gwen, moved onto the farm with their son, Scott. Son Tim and daughter Coralie came along in the ensuing years on the farm.
In 1980, a drought hit most of the Upper Midwest and Beach wasn’t immune. The spring of 1981 was very windy and Oech’s crops blew away with the wind.
“It was obvious at that time that what we were doing wasn’t going to work,” Oech said. “That natural resource was leaving us.
Prior to 1980, the Oechs had farmed in the traditional way – cultivation, then seeding and then applying the necessary inputs such as fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide.
In 1980, Darrel connected with the Manitoba-North Dakota Zero Tillage Farmers Association. The association piqued Oech’s interest into no-till farming and he saw it as a way of gaining greater productivity from his land.
“Somehow, we needed to mimic Mother Nature in her diversity,” Oech said.
Mimicking that diversity required equipment that was not readily available at the time because no till was a relatively new technology.
Oech seeded his first no-till field in 1982, cutting his time in the field drastically.
Prior to no till, the Oech’s would sometimes go over their fields up to seven times prior to seeding. Now, they only go over it the one time for seeding.
“No till will reduce erosion, you’re not exposing that soil to the elements,” Oech said. “The big advantage of no till is saving that moisture that is stored in that land.”
Oech also mentioned how important rotating crops and growing a polyculture – many crops on each plot – as opposed to a monoculture – one crop on each plot – is.
“One big benefit of no till is to control erosion and to build the soil resource,” Oech sad. “Building your organic matter count is important…building that organic matter back doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time and a polyculture of crops to get that reversed.”
Oech makes sure to keep up with the current trends and research that comes out regarding no till.
“Adapting to change is a big part of being successful in production agriculture,” Oech said. “We don’t have all the answers; there are things that are still emerging.”
Oech’s goal in utilizing and promoting no till is to maximize the production capacity of his land and bring it back to its original, unplowed state.
Tim and Scott, Oech’s sons, also utilize the no-till technology in their farming operations near Beach, but Darrel isn’t ready to move over for them just yet.
“I don’t want to impose on them, they’ve got to do their own thing,” Oech said. “I guess to see the farm move on would be a good thing. It existed for 100 years in 2006, I guess you like to see those kinds of things go on.”