South Dakota is equally blessed and cursed in many aspects of farming. This is true for the weather, the natural fertility of the land, as well as the clay or loam nature of the soil. Generally all farmers and soil experts will agree that east of the Missouri River the soil is more loamy and is easier to manage and work than the clay soils found west of the river.
However, both types of soils are at risk for significant degradation over time and with changes in soil moisture levels. In addition loss of organic materials, including organic carbon, as well as loss of soil due to wind and water erosion, all play a part in decreasing the production potential of the soil. This is true for the richest soils in the state as well as the poorest. Crops, tilling and simple exposure to the air all causes a loss in soil nutrients that, in turn, will lead to a decrease in production over time.
The good news is that agricultural science, including specialization studies in soil conservation and management, have given farmers the option to change from traditional tillage and planting methods to options that preserve the soil. One pass seeding instead of multiple passes to prepare, seed and fertilize the soil helps to decrease erosion due to tillage. It also helps to maintain the organic carbon in the soil that, in turn, helps the soil to hold on to moisture and be less likely to blow even in the significant spring and summer winds.
Needless to say the firmer the soil is, with minimal tilling, the less likelihood there will be for significant loss due to water erosion. In the hilly areas of the state this type of water erosion can be significant and, even though the soil will be deposited at the lower elevations of the field, it will lead to a greater fluctuation in the yield of a given field based on the elevation of the particular location. Higher hillsides will produce sparse crops while lower valleys and the bases of the hills will have thick, heavy crops that are more at risk for wind damage.
New equipment options, tilling methods and soil management technology can help to neutralize the potential damage of traditional heavy tillage practices. We are happy to share our knowledge with you; drop by or give us and call and we can provide you with ideas and information on a variety of different practices to help prevent soil damage on your farm.