Dakota Farmer

Farming In A Circle -- North Dakota Style

Jeff Oberholtzer farms in a circle -- a lot of little circles, as in going round and round potholes in one of the wettest areas in the state.

June 10, 2014

2 Min Read

Know how you can get sick going “around and around” on a midway ride at the fair?

Well, I kind of felt that way riding in Jeff Oberholtzer’s tractor the other day. He was planting soybeans and was circling around so many wet spots that I got dizzy. Every few seconds an alarm would go off on the planter monitor. It was letting him know that a section had shutoff because it had reached an overlap area, or because Jeff had raised the planter to keep from getting stuck, or ... well it seemed like there were a dozen reasons for the alarms. Jeff kept busy punching the override buttons.


I thought I had seen wet spots, potholes and wetlands in fields before. But I have never seen as many as Jeff planted around. The as-planted field map looked like a slice of Swiss cheese with extra holes.

Jeff, 31, farms with his father, Jerry, near Mohall, N.D., which has been one of the wettest areas in the Northern Plains in recent years. In 2011, they were only able to plant about 7% of their cropland. In 2013, they were only able to plant 30%. Jeff has one field that he has only been able to plant once in the past five years.


The Oberholtzers would like to do some ditching and tiling to improve the situation. Being able to drain some of the small wet spots into larger ponds at the edges of their fields would be a big help. But because of wetland rules, they can’t. So they are making the best of it. They are using big tractors on their planters – 9360 and 9560 four-wheel drives. They have duals and triples on everything, including the liquid fertilizer cart. They installed variable section controls on their planter that shuts off the seed and fertilizer when they cross an area that has been already been planted. That’s saving them 20-30%, Jeff says. They replaced the planter’s original equipment with after-market trash cleaner, row closing and gauge wheels especially designed for wet soils. They plant cover crops on prevent plant acres to soak up excess moisture. “It works!” Jeff says. Like a lot of other Dakota farmers, the Oberholtzers have become experts at pulling stuck equipment out of the mud. And they keep going around and around the wet spots.

By the way, I didn’t see any ducks or geese in the wet spots that Jeff was driving around.

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