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New farmer breaks new ground. What a wild ride

The first step in the process was a pretty rough ride

Riding an angry bull is probably worse. It has to be. But, they don’t have to stay on for 120 acres. I did. I held on with both hands, and around corners would bounce out of my seat. It was the roughest tractor ride of my life. The tab that allows the driver to fill the seat’s underbelly with air broke off against my water jug by acre 10.

I rented a 22-foot Wishek Disc and pulled it over 80-acres of pastureland recently broken with spikes using our 400-horsepower Case tractor. I drove five miles per hour, the recommended speed in potentially rocky conditions. And this land is near the Pembina escarpment, and the disc was a rental, and I’m not a person who bets, but I’m willing to break character and put some money down on it costing a few bushels of soybeans to replace one of those discs. Fate, when the margins are tight, is not worth tempting.

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I went slow. It took all day. Twenty-two feet is not wide, and our tractor was working hard.

The spikes found stones. Big stones. We buried them deep below the surface, trusting the people who told us that they will never resurface. I’m a skeptic. “Never” is a flagged word.

For this alone, the spikes were worth it. But, for the 40 or so acres that have yet to be broken with any implement, I’m discing first, then discing again. It’ll be a smoother ride, I’m hoping. The spikes only scored the surface in some spots, and scraped up balls of sod in others. This is what made it rough. This is what made that ride tantamount to riding an angry bull.

The 40-acre section hadn’t been broken at all before I started.

The 40-acre section hadn’t been broken at all before I started.
photo: Toban Dyck

After the first time over, I can say the entire field has been worked. The disc did a thorough job of cutting in and turning the soil.

As I write this, the tractor is warming up. I’m off to the rental shop to pick up the disc to work the 80 for the second time and go over the 40 twice. The dead belt of caraganas has been ripped out and piled. The fenceposts and the trees that have started to grow in random spots have been taken care of.

It’s time to go. It’s fall. Time is running out. I’m starting to feel the crunch. And the agronomists ready to test the soil can’t get to the areas they want to sample from until the field is even enough to drive on. It might be now after the first go with the disc, but it sure wasn’t before. Did I say it was rough? It was.

When I took the sprayer operator around the field to show him the perimeters, he chuckled when I said this adventure of breaking new land would be an interesting one. “Well, I know guys who have done this. They broke an entire section of pastureland, and now, three years later, you’d never know.”

I got the impression he would have given me a high-five for taking this on, if I had raised my hand in the slightest. In a subtle way, typical of farmers not used to showing emotion, he seemed pumped for me.

I, of course, hope to be this story: “Hey, I knew this guy who broke 120-acres of pastureland, and one year later, you’d never know it hadn’t been cropland since the late 1800s.”

Anyway, the tractor is warm, and I have to pack a day’s worth of food. This field is eight miles away from our farm, the longest distance our tractors have ever had to travel. I’ll let you know if I find any more boulders on the unbroken 40. And I’ll let you know if the white spots I saw on the soil while working the 80 is saline or not. I would bet, but I already broke character once in this article.

Farming is full of challenges, I’m learning: tight margins, expensive land, and risk. But, it’s interesting. All of it is interesting. This challenge is no exception. I will not break land for the first time again. And I doubt I’ll ever have a wilder tractor ride than I did the other day, which reminds me: I need to glue that air-suspension tab back on this fall.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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