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No-till gives farmer an advantage

Matthew Weaver
Spangle, Wash., farmer Bob Sievers is finding success in switching to no-till farming from conventional farming. Sievers hopes to further increase the diversiification of his farm with cover crops and crop rotations.

Bob Sievers farms “ugly” and he’s proud of it.

“On my farm you won’t see black dirt with beautiful, even rows of wheat out there. You’ll see a whole bunch of residue left over from the previous one, two, maybe even three years’ crops with beautiful rows of green out there,” he said. “It’s not the way traditionally things were done, and you have to get over that.”

Sievers took over his father’s ground in Spangle, Wash., in 1989, slowly adding to it over time. He raises winter wheat, spring wheat, barley, peas, lentils and bluegrass on 2,700 acres.

This year, Sievers added canola to the rotation.

“It looked a lot more appealing last year when it was 25 cents a pound instead of now when it’s 15 cents,” he said. “The idea is let’s add another crop and get something that will have some deep root penetration. I think that will help everything out.”

Sievers switched from conventional farming to no-till full-time about eight years ago. He often speaks to growers’ groups about his experiences.

“There’s still a perception that no-till is a failure and it won’t work,” Sievers said. “You’re growing a crop that is as good or better than conventional, and you’re making more money.”

Sievers said he gets frustrated when farmers try no-till for one year and then stop when it doesn’t work. It takes several years to get established, he said.

He sees obvious benefits in using less fuel and fewer passes by equipment over his fields.

“What guys are afraid of is that you give up yield,” he said. “If you no-till and you have a good rotation where you’re rotating crops, you will not give up any yield. In our part of the world, I think we’re gaining yield just because of all the moisture savings.”

Sievers recently addressed the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service meeting on cover crops. An annual cropper without any summer fallow, Sievers wonders how cover crops fit into his operation. But he likes the idea of adding a different crop into the rotation to gain diversification and soil health and reducing erosion.

“Erosion is forever,” he said. “We cannot afford to lose any more soil if we’re supposed to produce all the food we’re supposed to produce in the next (30 to 50 years.) That’s kind of where I’m coming from.”

Sievers hopes to continue being successful and get more diversification in his rotation, breaking up the grasses further.

His children help him drive truck, and he hires several school teachers to help at harvest time. He hopes his son, a senior in high school, will eventually return to the farm.

Sievers says he enjoys the challenges he faces farming, particularly no-till.

“It makes you think, learn, think outside the box and try new things,” he said. “Once you’re successful at it, it’s very rewarding.”

Bob Sievers

Age: 49

Family: Son, daughter

Education: Agriculture mechanics and business classes at Spokane Community College

Hometown: Spangle, Wash.



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