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Shane Dockter, owner of Dockter Organics of Menoken, N.D., transfers a monitor in a new John Deere tractor he’s starting with a three-year lease.Photo taken April 23, 2019, near Menoken, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Organic farmer eager to roll near Menoken, ND

MENOKEN, N.D.—Planting season is arriving just about right on schedule for Thane Dockter, a certified organic farmer from Menoken, just east of Bismarck, N.D.

"It seems about normal," Dockter says. "Some of the crops we're preparing the ground for, it kind of varies." He has a variety of lighter or heavier soils, where more moisture is setting around from after a cold, snowy winter. Moisture levels in the field are good, offering hope for a fast start and potential for good yield. Better than 2018, he thinks.

Dockter Organics involves about 3,500 certified acres, plus about 500 acres of non-certified pasture and grassland. He farms in Burleigh and Kidder counties, with fields up to 60 miles apart, employing five hired hands.

Organic producers don't have seed treatments available to "conventional" farmers. The treatments protect seeds from damage from fungus or insects as they wait in cold, wet soils. In organic production, farmers can only plant within a certain temperature range—a lot of crops like it at 55 to 60 degrees, Dockter says.

Dave Derung, one of Dockter's employees who works on the farm's web page and administrative tasks, also works for the National Weather Service in Bismarck. Derung pulled up soil temperature data from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

NDAWN sites indicated soil temperatures were still at 43 at 2 inches deep, 42 degrees at 4 inches deep and 43 degrees at 8 inches, and 32 degrees at 40-inches below the surface.

"We get a faster emergence that way and we get a (leaf) canopy over the ground, and less weed pressure by doing so."

On April 23, Dockter's crew was preparing equipment and thinking about breaking up some alfalfa, to prepare the ground for planting annual crops. There may be some rock-picking. He was hoping to start planting by April 27 or April 29, if rains didn't get in the way.

"One of the first crops we'll start (planting) is peas, then go into small grains—wheat, flax, and probably corn. Hopefully we'll hit that about the second week in May." The farm also raises flax, rye, millet, soybeans, edible beans and oats.

Dockter says he likes to get the peas planted earlier so it isn't so hot when they're starting to bloom and pod, maximizing yield potential.

New iron uplift

The farm's lease was up on five main tractors, so Dockter started a new three-year lease on some new iron.

"It saves us on down time, and hopefully we can keep 'em going because we put quite a few hours on them every year on each tractor," he says. Newer equipment saves on down time and expense. "It saves money in the long run. It might be a higher up-front expense but in the long run, it seems like it's cheaper."

So there is a process this year of transferring monitors and CB radios from the older tractors into the new machines. The electronics are used to run the planters and other equipment being run on three-point hitches.

The new equipment is a kind of a mood lifter, he acknowledges, because it keeps him thinking ahead to future years beyond current commodity price doldrums. But, he says, it's also practical in that it keeps the crew up-to-date in a way that they wouldn't be if he lets it get 10 or 15 years out of date.

"It's a little easier for the guys to jump in a tractor and know what they're doing instead of spending the time retraining everybody," he says.