MINTO, N.D. — For the past two years, Gudajtes Family Farm at Minto, N.D., has been short on moisture.

The northern Red River Valley operation is a combination of farms owned by John Gudajtes and sons Jay, Andy and Lee. The headquarters is halfway between Minto and Warsaw, N.D. “We call ourselves a sugarbeet farm,” Jay said. “That’s what we do. We grow beets for American Crystal. That’s the most successful part of our operation.”

The farm covers a swath in northern Grand Forks County, eastern Walsh, eastern Pembina and western Kittson County in Minnesota. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat, edible beans and hay. Jay has 200 cows in a registered Shorthorn purebred beef herd.

“For two years now, we’ve been really short-changed on the moisture we’d received rainfall through the summers,” Jay said. “This past winter was especially short on snowfall. Typically we’re concerned about runoff and flooding each spring. This spring there was no concern at all.”

A folded 24-row Soil Warrior machine with 22-inch spacing works with vertical coulters at different angles and settings. Existing crop residue is torn up, pulverizing the soil 2 inches deep. “All of our fertilization is put into that strip, where it’s tilled,” says Minto, N.D., farmer Jay Gudajtes. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
A folded 24-row Soil Warrior machine with 22-inch spacing works with vertical coulters at different angles and settings. Existing crop residue is torn up, pulverizing the soil 2 inches deep. “All of our fertilization is put into that strip, where it’s tilled,” says Minto, N.D., farmer Jay Gudajtes. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
This spring the family has been enjoying a vertical tillage tool that works in strips, instead of the entire field.

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In the spring of 2020, the farm invested in the strip-till machine. Specifically, they chose a “Soil Warrior,” a machine manufactured by Environmental Tillage Systems Inc., of Faribault, Minn. Mark Bauer marketed the first of the machines in 2004. He incorporated in 2005, and started a manufacturing facility at Faribault in 2008.

Read more about the 2021 planting season:

Conservation on heavy soils

Guided by GPS, a sugar beet seed was planted this spring in the middle of a 9-inch wide “strip” of vertically-tilled soil, created last fall by a Soil Warrior machine on the Gudajtes Family Farms near Minto, N.D. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Guided by GPS, a sugar beet seed was planted this spring in the middle of a 9-inch wide “strip” of vertically-tilled soil, created last fall by a Soil Warrior machine on the Gudajtes Family Farms near Minto, N.D. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The Gudajtes' acres are spread out 40 miles north to south. The land they control more than five miles south of their farmstead had received some rain, but as May rolled around, most of their northern lands were extremely dry.

The Gudajteses operate on heavier soils.

“Being a sugarbeet farm, we kind of look for those slightly heavier soils,” he said. “We just believe the finer-textured soils allow the root to develop in a way that it uptakes the available nutrients earlier in its life cycle, allowing it to completely deplete its access to nitrogen later in its life cycle. The lack of nitrogen availability tricks the plant into thinking winter is coming sooner, increasing sugar content.”

The optimal situation for beets is a heavy soil next to the sandy-loams that are ideal for potato. Some of that consistently produces 30- to 35-ton-per acre beets with 19% to 20% sugar content, he said.

“One of the things we’ve been doing to combat our dryness is to reduce our tillage — reduce how much we’re working that ground, removing the moisture from the soil,” Jay said.

The Gudajteses chose a model 24 rows wide with 22-inch spacing. The machine is provided with large fertilizer tanks that can variable-rate apply two different products into the “strip” of soil they’re working into the ground.

Jay said the machine produces 9-inch-wide seedbed strips. They used the machine a little bit in the spring of 2020, leaving about 15 inches unworked. It is provided with three or four vertical coulters with different angles and settings. The existing crop residue is torn up, while it pulverizes the soil 2 inches deep.

“All of our fertilization is put into that strip, where it’s tilled,” he said.

First full season

Gudajtes Family Farms include John Gudajtes, and his sons, Jay, Lee and Andy. They raise sugar beets and other crops in  Grand Forks County, eastern Walsh, eastern Pembina and western Kittson County in Minnesota Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Gudajtes Family Farms include John Gudajtes, and his sons, Jay, Lee and Andy. They raise sugar beets and other crops in Grand Forks County, eastern Walsh, eastern Pembina and western Kittson County in Minnesota Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
In the fall of 2020, they did quite a bit of strip-tilling with the Soil Warrior, preparing to plant sugar beets for the 2021 crop.

“We went into wheat stubble, ran the machine one time, and were able to reduce probably a tandem disk pass, and a vertical tillage pass, and a chisel plow pass and maybe even a spreading event, and a multi-weeder and harrow packer that would lead into spring planting,” Jay said.

This spring they planted into the Soil Warrior strip or just worked the ground one time to break up some lumps — either with the Soil Warrior or another piece of machinery — and planted into the strips.

It’s been easy to use, easy to follow with the planter, planting into the strips with GPS.

“What we found in those strips is that the moisture really held,” he said. “We were able to go a half-inch into the ground and scrape away dry dust on top and find ‘muck.’ And good soil moisture. We were actually able to go into those strips with our planter this spring, and put that beet seed an inch and a quarter into the ground, and be in moisture — totally encapsulating that seed on all four sides with moisture, rather than maybe two sides or one side.”

That’s been important because of the winds, he said.

Keeping, catching soil

Jay Gudajtes, his father and two brothers farm in entities under the umbrella of Gudajtes Family Farms of Minto, N.D. 
Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Jay Gudajtes, his father and two brothers farm in entities under the umbrella of Gudajtes Family Farms of Minto, N.D. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
“There’s been some unbelievable wind events this spring,” Jay said.

In some cases the Gudajteses were using excavators to remove “blow dirt” out of county and township road ditches, putting it back on fields to ensure their drainage work.

With the Soil Warrior, the standing stubble held the soil on their land and “actually caught some of the neighbors’ dirt when it comes across.”

The machine cost was “north of $400,000,” he said.

“It’s expensive to get into but in the end — if you can run it across enough acres — it’ll be economical to do,” he said. “It’s looking good. We think we’re onto something that is going to catch on real quickly, learning and having an advantage until it really catches on.”

“Conservation in general is a ‘hot topic,’ all the way up to the (U.S.) president’s office,” Gudajtes said.