I got a kick out of seeing Dwayne Beck on his hands and knees looking for earthworm holes in a cornfield at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm’s Field Day near Pierre, S.D. That’s exactly where you'd expect to find him. Beck, a South Dakota State University agronomist and manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, has led a revolution of no-till on the Great Plains, and now he’s teaching us about soil health.
Other interesting things I saw at the field day:
Evidence of how rotation and crop residue can affect soil health. Nathan Mueller, South Dakota State University Extension agronomist, dug up spadefuls of soil from low-residue, medium-residue and high-residue fields, and there were startling differences in soil texture and soil health -- and the holes were all within 20 feet of each other!
Jason Miller, a Natural Resources Conservation Service agronomist, Pierre, shed new light on creating management zones, showing 6-foot-long soil cores taken from different areas of fields. It made the soil pH, saline soils and clay layers come alive. “You can’t design zones sitting in your office in the winter,” he said. “You have to do it in the field.” And if you -- or the person you hire -- are only taking about five soil samples per management zone, you’re not getting an accurate soil test. You need at least 25 to 30 cores, he said.
A new crop, Ethiopian mustard. It looks like spring canola, but is lots hardier, so it can be planted earlier in the spring. South Dakota State University researchers are trying to figure out if and how it can be grown in the state. Results so far look promising.