No-till saves the day for valley farmers
By MITCH LIES
For the Capital Press
AMITY, Ore. — It was the spring of 1998 when Bruce and Helle Ruddenklau first gave no-till a whirl, and then it was only out of desperation.
By that summer, the Ruddenklaus had their own no-till drill and were on the way to changing the way they farm.
Today the Ruddenklaus rarely plow fields, using no-till on just about all their acres, and they couldn’t be happier.
“It has made us way more cost effective at raising lower-value crops and opened up windows of opportunities to raise higher-value crops,” said Bruce Ruddenklau.
The decision to try no-till started with the demise of a fall-planted perennial ryegrass seed crop.
“Come spring, it just wasn’t growing,” he said. “We had to get a crop in there. We couldn’t afford to fallow ground. And I remember going out there and kicking the dirt. It was mellow, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I could just plant right into this.’”
He made some phone calls to a local John Deere dealer who helped arrange a no-till drill rental agreement with a farmer from just north of Albany.
Bruce Ruddenklau planted spring peas into the dead perennial ryegrass “and it was tremendously successful,” he said.
The discovery of no-till helped get the Ruddenklaus over what had been a lengthy spell of fighting the same weed problems year after year.
“Where we were working the soil dry in the fall, we were essentially burying back the weed problems we had in the field,” Bruce Ruddenklau said. “We were really never getting ahead of the problem.”
“We couldn’t afford to fallow anything to take care of a problem field. But that is what it needed to get ahead of the problem,” Helle Ruddenklau said.
In addition to enhancing the Ruddenklaus’ ability to control weeds, no-till allows the farmers to work wet fields in the spring.
“You’ve got a nice firm base that you are going on, and it has enabled us to plant those spring crops in a timely manner to where you can get the benefit of the growing season and the moisture still to come,” Bruce Ruddenklau said. “It has made those spring crops good dryland crop options that under conventional tillage we didn’t have.”
The other significant change in the way the Ruddenklaus farm has been the addition of an irrigation pond that catches water at the bottom of a gully from about 500 acres that normally would just run off the farm into a ditch.
The Ruddenklaus decided to build a dike to catch the water after Bruce noticed what irrigation can do to a crop while leasing irrigated ground from a neighbor one year.
“When I realized what you could do when you push a button and call for water and the crops’ response to that, it really opened my eyes to how beneficial irrigation can be,” Bruce Ruddenklau said.
The irrigation pond holds about 100 acre-feet of water when full, they said.
Prior to adding irrigation and going no-till, the Ruddenklaus said their dream of owning and operating their own farm was slipping away.
“We were struggling,” Bruce Ruddenklau said. “We were at a point where there was no way we could justify the replacement of the tractor and the plow that we had.”
Today the Ruddenklaus are enjoying growing the 10 or so crops they produce each year and meeting the different challenges of producing high-value seed crops.
“It’s been fun to see how the different seed crops work together in rotation together with no-till,” Bruce Ruddenklau said. “It’s kind of like trying to work with Mother Nature rather than trying to beat it into submission.”