After 2 years of battling drought, parts of North Dakota were bogged down in muddy fields this spring. Near the rural community of Oakes, N.D., the Courtney farm is getting ready for another unpredictable season.

Drew Courtney and his wife, Lindsey, farm with his cousin, Kyle Courtney, and his wife, Megan. It’s been a slow start this spring, yet the family operation is sticking to its strip-till plans.

“Right now, we’re doing a little corn on corn, so I am working the ground with the vertical tillage ahead of seeding corn,” Drew told Farm & Ranch Guide on May 6. “We need to break up some of the residue because it is too heavy in here. Strip-tilling didn’t work out in this field. Usually, we like to strip-till right through the corn stalks.”

The soil that Drew is working has drain tile under it, helping operations continue despite ongoing rain.

“We got 2.5 inches of rain this past weekend, and the weekend before that, we received 2 inches in most areas of the farm, and one spot south of our farm received 4 inches,” he said. “If it weren’t for the drain tile, we wouldn’t be able to get into this field.”

Drew refers to the drain tile as the farm's top return on investment. He'd like to put drain tile in as many fields as possible, but it's a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. 

Just as the rains set in, the Courtneys got a Sunday night surprise. The used AGCO White Planter they had ordered last fall arrived. It didn’t have a liquid fertilizer tank or the plumbing needed to use liquid starter fertilizer (10-34-00) when seeding corn. The Courtneys spent 10 days plumbing the liquid fertilizers, adding flow meter tanks and doing other repairs and maintenance to get it ready.

The new planter will allow them to plant about 7 mph on some fields, a jump from the usual 4-4.5 mph. In addition to the faster speed, they'll also be able to finish seeding faster with 2 planters. 

For the fields that are not strip-tilled, Drew will spread urea in spring. The strip-tilled fields were fertilized in the fall. The Courtneys will also do some strip-tilling in the spring on certain fields.

“We don’t always get to all the fields to strip-till in the fall, and in addition, we have some fields that have sandier soils. Due to leaching, we don’t want to fertilize them in the fall,” Drew said. “We try to be good stewards of the land.”

Once the Courtneys start planting corn, they will switch over to soybeans when the soil allows, and then go back and forth between fields.

All corn and soybeans are planted in 30-inch rows with the same planter so Courtneys only change out the seed plate.