Grow wheat on shale

Twenty bushels of wheat per acre isn’t impressive, but if that piece of ground had a long history of giving you zero bu., then all of a sudden it is significant.

That’s how Dallas Timmerman feels about his knoll rehabilitation program.

Timmerman farms at Treherne, Man., an area where tops of the eroded hills expose nothing but shale. Sometimes the shale grows zero. Other times, it might grow as much as five bu. per acre of spring wheat. But when that happens, the straw is so short and so weak that the swath falls to the ground and can’t be picked up by the combine.

About 25 years ago, Timmerman wanted to see if it was possible to get at least some crop on the hilltops. After the other fall work was done, Timmerman would hook his Versatile 800 to a small scraper and started dragging excess lowland soil up to the tops of the knolls. It’s a slow process with a six-yard Leon, and he can’t do the work in wet years, such as the past six years. However, he has kept at it and expects to eventually get the whole farm done.

“I used the Versatile because the hydraulics on the front wheel assist tractor weren’t compatible with the scraper,” said Timmerman, adding that the Versatile is 250 horsepower. The 200 h.p. front wheel assist has enough power, but it needs hydraulics.

“The first year in which I moved soil to the top of a hill, there isn’t much improvement because we’re cultivating it and trying to level it, but the second year and then later on as the soil blends into the shale, we’re getting more straw and more grain because now we had some nutrients up there instead of just shale,” he said.

Timmerman would take two to six inches from the bottom and try to dump an even layer on the top. If it was wetter, the soil was clumpier coming out, so then it would end up being a lot thicker.

“Overall, I’m getting a healthier stand of whatever crop I’m growing that year,” he said.

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