Soil Management

Healthy soil is the foundation of farming. And South Dakota growers are out in front in terms of managing for sustainability.

Conservation tillage adds organic matter to the soil and reduces erosion. No-till, strip-till and other reduced tillage techniques have been more widely adopted by South Dakota farmers.

Another practice, crop rotation, helps with fertility conservation, weed control, and disruption of disease and insect cycles.

Farmers also use cover or forage crops to reduce erosion and increase organic matter in the soil. A four-year Iowa State University study showed an increase of up to 10 percent in corn yields when farmers used erosion-slowing cover crops. Different cover crops add various nutrients to the soil and can be adjusted depending on soil quality.

Dwayne Beck, manager of South Dakota State University’s Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, says the combination of no-till, crop rotation and cover/forage crop use has provided many advantages, including:

  • Using up to 30 percent less irrigation water
  • Soil with high organic matter holds more water, which means it does not become saturated as quickly or dry out as quickly as soil with less organic matter
  • Crop residue from no-till helps hold soil particles, nutrients and pesticides in the field
  • Depending on residue amounts, no-till cuts soil erosion by up to 90 percent
  • Weeds can be controlled with less herbicide
  • Diverse rotations reduce weeds, disease and insect pressure, and spread the workload
  • More profitable and stable farming

Beck says, “Cover crops create a canopy that in turn yields a microclimate idea for microbes that break down stubble. As a result, organic matter increases, and soils are warmer and drier at the surface. Corn planters don’t have to struggle through dense residue and weed management is a big benefit. Taken together with intensive rotation, no-till becomes a comprehensive program.” (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)