South Dakota's Top Conservation Challenge

Improving resiliency of farms and ranches is state conservationist's goal.

Published on: Jun 28, 2013

Improving the resiliency of farms and ranches is the top conservation challenge in South Dakota, says Jeff Zimprich, state conservation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Resiliency, he says, is the ability of farms and ranches to remain profitable through dry and wet periods, and to bounce back after drought or other catastrophe.

Key to improving resiliency is soil health. A healthier soil -- one that can absorb more water and produce more nitrogen for plants to use -- will help farmers and ranchers bend, but not break when Mother Nature sends the too-much-rain or the not-enough- rain curve ball," Zimprich says.

While good soil health improves farm and ranch production, it also improves the natural resource.

A thunderstorm approaches a Dakota farm. Conservation measures can farm and ranches bad weather.
A thunderstorm approaches a Dakota farm. Conservation measures can farm and ranches bad weather.

"It truly is win-win," he says.

How to improve soil health
Zimprich says one of the top things you can do to improve cropland soil health is to adopt no-till. Long-term no-till will increase the organic matter level in the soil.

Using a diverse rotation of crops that produce lots of residue will also boost organic matter levels. So will planting cover crops. Keeping live roots in the soil as long as possible each year will help support micro-organisms in the soils.

Getting manure on the soil through grazing of cover crops or crop residues, or properly applying manure will also increase organic matter, he says.

To improve the soil health of pasture and range land, the top things to do are:

  • Adopt a grazing rotation that has periods of rest for the grass grazing plan.
  • Diversify plant species in the pasture or range.
  • Use proper stocking rates
  • Never overgraze.
  • Develop and follow a drought management plan.