Soil Health & Conservation Stories

Winds, tillage steal soil productivity in Dakotas

No farmer or landowner wants to see their farmland investment gone with the wind. But more extreme storms and intense winds make topsoil protection critical to sustaining farm financial viability.

The derecho on May 12, 2022, raced 500 miles across parts of South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, causing about $1.3 billion in damage. This intense storm caused straight-line wind gusts from 75 to 107 mph, hail, rainfall up to 6 inches, and 32 tornadoes that hit towns and rural a

U.S. Farmers Delivering Sustainably Grown Grains

The term ‘sustainability’ quickly became a discouraging word among farmers when leaders began touting its need in agriculture.

“It put a burr under my saddle and caused a lot of us to get defensive,” says South Dakota farmer Mike McCranie, a longtime leader who sits on various soybean boards. “When you’ve farmed for 40 years, on some land my great-grandfather homesteaded 142 years ago, and made vast productivity improvements, you get defensive when someone says you need to be more sustainable

Grow Your Farm's Future with Climate Smart Practices

Focusing on feeding your soil with year-round plants and the carbon energy from sunlight will drive healthy soil to deliver longevity to your farm or ranch.

However, soils that live on a constant diet of synthetic fertilizer, monocropping, and excessive tillage are degrading soil biology. Even consumers driving our highways now comment on blowing dirt and eroded soil or black snow in ditches, relating that to the potential harm to their water quality.

To make challenges greater, this climate

2022 Drought Offers Valuable Lessons

A dry late summer into fall of 2022 had many Midwest corn growers concerned about the drought. More than half of the farmers surveyed in August by Pioneer said they were dealing with moderate to severe drought stress.

“Last summer, coming out of a second consecutive year of La Niña, a predicted drought was already in place across much of the nation’s midsection, especially west of the Mississippi River,” says Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist. “I credit the National Weather Service forecasters for nailing the long-range forecast last summer—where the eastern Corn Belt fared reasonably well, and the Northern and High Plains had a tough year with drought and heat combining to really take a toll on crops.”

Soil Health Lessons Learned

As the weather cycles continue to become more extreme, farmers and ranchers are seeking solutions to make their soils and their farms more resilient from wet and dry conditions, now and into the future.

Seeking solutions, South Dakota USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and SDSU agronomists took a hard look at Prevent Plant acres a few years ago. NRCS State Soil Health Specialist Kent Vlieger led two round table discussions with agronomists and local farmers near Crooks and Mit

Grow Cover Crops in Corn Without Yield Loss

Cover crops are well known to provide benefits to the soybean crop like reducing nutrient losses and erosion, suppressing weeds and sometimes suppressing diseases. However, many farmers balk at using cover crops ahead of corn due to a perceived risk of potential yield loss.

Developing management practices that lead to a corn yield increase with cover crops drives Scott Nelson’s research with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation. “The reason we believe there is potential for corn to yield more following cover crops relates to soil water...

Cover Crops in Corn – a Good Match?

Cover crop use continues to increase as farmers learn and fine-tune how it fits in a corn and soybean rotation. The annual national cover crop survey among farmers in August 2020 showed small yield increases following cover crops in corn, soybeans and wheat.

Overall, farmers cite that cover crops will deliver healthier soils, lower herbicide and fertilizer costs, reduce erosion and improve weed control, among other benefits.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see 50% of these farmers [in the survey] plant some of their cover crops before harvest,” says Dean Baas, Michigan State University Extension educator in Sustainable Agriculture. “This is a good indicator that farmers seek ways to get cover crops established earlier than postharvest to improve cover crop benefits.”
©Kurt Lawton/Stellar Content LLC
install drip irrigation in farm field

Conservation Demonstration Grant Winner: Subsurface Drip Irrigation Driving Water and Nutrient Efficiencies

The Winsor family farm adds drip tape irrigation to boost water use efficiency while delivering nutrients in the root zone to improve plant growth, water quality and cut fertility costs.

A focus on conservation of irrigation water and nutrient use efficiency since 2005 has led Andy and LaVell Winsor to experiment with subsurface drip irrigation technology.

Farming the diverse contours, soil types and bottom ground in the Kansas River Valley between Topeka and Lawrence, Kansas, the Winsors are
©Kurt Lawton/Stellar Content LLC
keeping nitrates and phosphorus out of lakes

Conservation Demonstration Grant Winner: Removing Tile Water Nutrients Aim to Improve Nearby Lakes

The Hammer Kavazanjian family farm installed a unique edge-of-field phosphorus removal from tile water system to improve water quality and benefit Wisconsin lakes and streams.

Decades before soil health became a recognized valuable science, Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian launched their Wisconsin family farm in 1980 with the motto, ‘Our Soil, Our Strength.’

“We’ve dedicated ourselves to doing what’s best for our soils and our crops 41 years ago,” Kavazanjian says. “All of our conservation
©Kurt Lawton/Stellar Content LLC
Arkansas farm testing cover crops

Conservation Demonstration Grant Winner: Seeking Cover Crop Solutions for Arkansas Hardpan Soils

The Berger Doyle family farm launch cover crop research to showcase values for soybean and rice farmers.

Unlike cover crop growth in more receptive Midwest soils, northeast Arkansas farmers Brad Doyle and Joyce Berger Doyle face a challenge to find species that can thrive in their clayey hardpan soils better suited for rice and ducks.

Given their agronomy, soil and plant breeding research backgrounds, the Doyles understand the need for more cover crop research in their watershed area and how to conduct accurate tests.
©Kurt Lawton/Stellar Content LLC
farmers talks cover crop soil health

A Passion to Showcase Soil Health Builds Consultant Success

Taking a more holistic view of farming — from the health of microbes in the soil to the health of crop profits — has farmers paying attention to a young soil health consultant in eastern Iowa.

Mitchell Hora’s data-driven approach to soil biology, combined with his passion for on-farm research and education through field days, helps expand soil health and water quality in Iowa and beyond. With his unique skill set, Hora recently joined the Business Council of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

Cropping Innovation and Soil Regeneration Draws Farmer Attention at Hora Field Day

Despite Covid-19 and hot weather, an impressive turnout — more than 150 farmers and other soil-loving attendees — gathered at the Hora family farm in southeast Iowa to experience hands-on soil health demos, cover crop experiments, and creative cropping systems.

Continuum Ag founder and soil health consultant Mitchell Hora (shown above in middle of photo, wearing a red polo shirt) showcased the farm’s numerous creative uses of cover crops, relay crops, 60-inch corn, and interseeding demos of cov

Lessons Learned from Prevent Plant 2019 AND Managing for Better Soil Structure: Repairing Field Ruts

The wet weather cycle and saturated soils
have some farmers and ranchers seeking
solutions to make their soils, and their farms,
more resilient against frequent rain events.
Seeking solutions, South Dakota USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and SDSU
agronomists shared Prevented Plant field management
results from 2019. They compared five different field
scenarios, with and without cover crops, to compile
lessons learned from this challenging year.
To expand on the topic, NRCS State Soil Health
Specialist Kent Vlieger led two roundtable discussions...

Cover Crops Boot Camp -- Farmers Share Lessons Learned

“If you want to succeed at cover crops, you will. If you want to fail at cover crops, you will.” These are examples of some of the honest, direct, farmer-to-farmer wisdom shared at the recent Cover Crops Boot Camp held in Ames.

Finding success, considering challenges, and exploring solutions were among the exercises undertaken by more than 100 farmers gathered at the meeting.

The Boot Camp was one of the key recommendations that came out of the Conservation Infrastructure initiative. The event

Small businesses receive support as cover crop acres expand.

Farmer entrepreneurs are seeing solid business growth as they launch cover crop support businesses in Iowa. While it’s not Silicon Valley, some farmers are doubling their business annually, which provides great diversity to commodity-driven farm businesses.

As cover crop acres ramped up in Iowa from 100,000 in 2011 to almost 1 million in 2019, so have the businesses that serve these farmers — from custom applicators and seed sellers to full-service cover crop companies and soil health businesse

10 lessons from prevented planting in 2019

There were more than 4.7 million prevented planting acres in North Dakota and South Dakota last year. Lessons gleaned by Natural Resources Conservation Service-South Dakota about managing those acres include:

1. Wait for soils to dry. When soils begin to thaw, do not try to graze cover crops planted on prevented planting acres.

2. Too wet to bale. Baling cover crops on prevented planting acres was generally not successful because some of the species in cover crop seed mixes remained too wet to

Prevented Plant Acres in South Dakota Management Scenarios for 2020

6 Prevented Plant Field Scenarios: Lessons Learned in 2019

1. Seeded to cover crops; left standing through winter.
• Optimizes soil structure and health. Great seeding environment for no-till cropping.
• Provides optimal seeding conditions for spring cash crops after control of any surviving cover crop species.
• Provides soil armor, erosion control, soil structure and organic matter improvement, plant and root diversity, improved water infiltration, nutrient cycling, and soil carbon capture from increased photosynthesis—all work together for higher soil health benefits.
• Avoid tillage this spring as that leads to platy soil structure, reduced water infiltration, and nutrient uptake. Be patient and reap Mother Nature’s benefits of healthier soil with more stable aggregate and structure formation.

2. Seeded to cover crops; grazed, baled, or chopped for feed...

Top tips for managing crops on 2019’s Prevented Plant fields

After enduring soggy soils repeatedly during 2019, South Dakota growers can’t wait to see crops emerge from last year’s Prevented Plant fields.

From field condition and weed control planning to fallow syndrome, fertility, green planting and interseeding cover crops — check out current advice compiled by agronomists and soil scientists from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and South Dakota State University Extension, with involvement from South Dakota's Conservation Districts,

Iowa Farmers Rely on Cover Crops to Improve Prevent Plant Acres

The calendar can’t turn fast enough this year for farmers, many who endured both a soggy #Plant 19 and a wet, snowy #Harvest19, as Twitter posts showcased.

Late snow runoff and frequent big storms drenched the Midwest during planting season, which idled 11.4 million acres of corn and 4.4 million acres of soybeans nationally, according to FSA data received from farmers. States like South Dakota (2.9 million acres corn and 868,000 acres soybeans), Illinois (1.1 million corn and 331,000 soybeans),

Partners Help Grow Iowa Farm Into Conservation Research Showcase

Ask Iowa cattleman and farmer Bill Couser about how his conservation journey began. He humbly and proudly mentions the values instilled in him by his conservationist father, Dick Couser. "He got us going down the right path — wanting to do conservation right, or not at all," he says."Then, there was this gentleman, Elmer Paul, who owned the small cattle farm I purchased some 50 years ago. He was an environmentalist, always hosting and teaching Iowa State University (ISU) st
©Kurt Lawton/Stellar Content LLC
Farmer installs buffer to keep river clean

Soil Saving Farmers Invest in Practices to Improve Water Quality

In the rolling hills of east-central Iowa in Cedar County, family farmers Ken Fawcett and his nephew Kent Stuart have long used conservation practices that keep the soil at home and healthy.

However, it was their desire to improve water quality that led them to the recent installation of a saturated buffer.

These innovators have always sought the best conservation methods for their farm, which was established in 1851 near West Branch. Gully erosion next to a freshwater spring led to a grade st

Prevented Planting Issues & Cover Crops: How to Determine Your Best Options

Excessive rainfall and wet, cold soils are preventing some farmers from planting their crops, and the crop insurance deadline is upon us. What are the options, and best advice for cover crops?

1. There are numerous options, so contact your crop insurance agent well before you make any decisions. Know the final plant date for the insured crop: May 25 or May 31 (depending on the county) for corn; June 10 for soybeans and June 15 or June 20 for sunflowers. Be sure to understand your policy structure, APH units/changes, added acres, crop rotation, previous Prevented Plant claims, enterprise units, and the potential of eligible acres/crops within your county -- as all these factors could impact your coverage.

Repair Field Ruts -- Advice for Farmers: 10 Steps to Improve Ruts and Soil Management

Tire or track ruts exist in a field. What is best advice to smooth them out before planting?

1. Assess the damage: How deep are the ruts; how large is the affected area? All ruts deeper than planting depth should be leveled. In locations where soils were fully saturated (soil pores were filled with water), compaction may not be as bad as perceived. Therefore, just leveling the ruts themselves may be all that is necessary to get the field in planting condition. In the rut area, soil
structure has been damaged. In no-till fields, where ruts are often shallow, many growers choose to let nature, not steel, rebuild the ruts. Living roots, improved biological activity, and the freeze/thaw/wet/dry cycles with natural heaving, will help level the compacted areas...

14 stories for World Soil Day

Here are just a few CSD stories among hundreds in support of soil health and water quality—to deliver more productive U.S. soils.

Soil conservation has long been an editorial theme at Corn+Soybean Digest. But advancing soil biology has been an increasing focus for the past six years—because soil health practices are proving to be a game changer for farmers.

We have a long way to go to rebuild the natural productivity of our soils, which have lost about 50% of their soil organic matter since co
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