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Soil Health Top Priority as Farm Prepares for Centennial Year in Ward County

In 2019, Delvin Fannik’s family will celebrate a special milestone – their family grain and cattle farm near Max, N.D., will mark 100 years in operation.

Kindra Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.

The three-generation Ward County farm was founded by Delvin’s grandparents who emigrated from Russia. It then transitioned to their son Ed Fannik (who passed away in 2007) and his wife LaVonne and is today operated by their sons Delvin and Jacob and their families. This includes Delvin’s wife, Kristi, and their two young children, Emily, 13, and Layton, 10; and Jacob’s wife, Christine.

farmer, vegetables, field

In anticipation of the next generation possibly operating the farm one day, Delvin says he and his brother have been implementing changes to ensure long-term soil health on their land. This has included taking several conservation steps over the past decade from reduced tillage to equipment for drift management and the addition of cover crops.

 “We recognize our family has been farming here for nearly 100 years, and we want to sustain our acres and make them better,” Delvin says.


After beginning to farm full-time in the mid-1990s, Delvin’s and Jacob’s interest in conservation was spurred by their attendance at various conservation meetings and tours hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as knowledge gained by attending research field tours hosted by the North Dakota State University North Central Research Extension Center at Minot.

Delvin also credits conversations with other farmers and Minot Field Office NRCS District Conservationist Jerry Wingenbach for helping conservation ideas for the Fannik farm take root.

The brothers took their first step toward conservation improvements in the mid-2000s after securing an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract through the Ward County NRCS office. Under this contract, they implemented reduced tillage at spring planting. The Fanniks grow spring wheat, soybeans, durum, corn and dry peas.

Their next big conservation steps were implementing spray reduction nozzles on equipment to ensure drift management of herbicides and pesticides, as well as adding cover crops on their cropland. They credit a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract administered by NRCS for helping initiate these land stewardship efforts four years ago. They’ve been especially pleased with a mix of millet, turnips and radishes following their pea crop.

“We began doing it for the betterment of soil health to aid root structure, organic matter and water infiltration,” Delvin says.  “I’ve enjoyed seeing the benefits of the deep-rooted crops. We farm a lot of sloped farm ground, and with another set of roots planted, we’ve seen it hold the soil better. We are also seeing the soil hold a lot more water [rather than it all pooling into a low spot], and this allows us to get in the field faster in the spring.”

The Fanniks initially drilled in cover crops after harvest in August but have more recently experimented with aerial seeding in late July so the cover crops can get established earlier.

“I believe the more growing time you can allow the cover crops, the more you are stimulating the microbial soil organisms,” Delvin says.

As an added bonus, the cover crops also offer fall grazing for the Fannik cowherd. Cattle are turned out onto the cover crop forage about four weeks following a killing frost.

 “This is also improving our field’s organic matter by adding manure and hoof action to increase the decomposition of the crop residue on the field,” Delvin says.

Of their conservation journey, Delvin expresses appreciation for having been able to collaborate with NRCS.

“NRCS staff helped us gain conservation knowledge, and through NRCS cost-share programs, we’ve been able to get conservation practices started on our land,” he says.

NRCS’ Wingenbach adds, “Working with the Fanniks has been a learning experience for both of us. It’s refreshing to work with producers who are progressive and try new ways of doing things on their operations.”

Wingenbach notes that they are already seeing the cover crops implemented on the Fannik farm improve soil health, especially where livestock have been introduced.

“Keeping a growing root in the soil throughout the growing season has started to pay dividends for their operation and will into the future.”

To that end, Delvin says, “We know it is going to take years for many of these soil health improvements. We hope the next generation will see the benefits.”

Looking ahead, Delvin and Jacob are also talking about their next conservation steps – adding precision agriculture. Specifically, they hope to utilize a new CSP contract to explore using variable rate technology to improve seed and nutrient management on their farm.