In a lot of ways, farming success comes down to efficiency
How efficiently can a farmer make use of his time?
How efficiently can he make use of his inputs?
How efficiently can he make use of his available resources?
When it comes specifically to those available resources, there is one that stands above the rest in determining whether a farm sinks or swims.
WATER HOLDING CAPACITY
Steve Reimer has made increasing soil water storing capacity his work for nearly half a century.
“Back in the 1970’s, we grew corn and small grains and we did tillage summer fallow,” Reimer says, who owns a farm just outside of Chamberlain, S.D. “We were seeing water running off the fields and taking topsoil with it. We wanted, instead for the water to stay where it fell.”
In an effort to increase water holding capacity, Reimer turned to what some would call drastic measures. He transitioned to no-till, increased crop diversity through multi-species cover crops, and turned to paddock grazing. 40 years later, Reimer and his wife, Elaine, are proud to say that they have transformed the quality of their soil to the benefit of themselves and their land. News of this transformation has spread far beyond Brule, County. Recently, the Reimers were officially recognized as “Soil Health Champions” by the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Even with accolades and 4 decades worth of healthy soil, that still doesn’t mean it’s all roses. As Reimer says, the number one challenge in his area remains “Having enough moisture at the right time to make the system work.”
Once again, it all comes back to moisture. Reimer’s soil health practices position his operation for success, however, by not just retaining water in the short-term, but through building year-long soil resilience.
THE BENEFITS OF SOIL RESILIENCE
Soil resilience can make or break a farming operation, especially in areas known for extreme conditions. If Reimer was not in position to withstand South Central South Dakota’s dry heat and protracted dry periods, who knows what the state of his operation would be? Just last year, he had one of his greatest tests yet.
“Steve’s area only received 5 inches of rain from January 1 until the middle of August; there was very little spring moisture,” says local NRCS district conservationist Stacy Turgeon. “Despite receiving such a small amount of moisture, Steve’s crops were more resilient than some area crops receiving the same amount. The water hat falls on his soil stays where it is and infiltrates the soil profile. His practices help crops hold on longer during adverse conditions.”
As Reimer can attest, a soil’s resilience is largely, if not entirely, derived from the soil’s health. And we can’t build soil health unless we start to adopt soil health practices.
When it comes to retaining moisture, these 4 principles can be the difference between farming success or failure. As always, don’t just take our word for it. Experiment and find out for yourself. Reimer will be the first to admit that he had his OWN reservations in the beginning.
“I used to worry about leaving too much residue on the soil,” says Reimer. “But two years ago, the Natural Resources Conservation Service set up a time-lapse camera in one of my soybean fields to show the rate of residue breakdown over the growing season. After the field was seeded and over the course of the growing season, the camera captured that heavy layer of mulch just shrinking into the ground. In time, the beans grew up, and their canopy covered the camera. The soil microorganisms were doing their work of recycling the residue.”
And thus, the journey towards soil health began.
To learn more about water holding capacity, check out our in-depth videos breaking down this very topic!
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