Dr. Tom Schumacher, Retired, SDSU, walks us through the experimental setup he used with large rainfall simulators, the type developed for the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), on three different farming systems to evaluate soil infiltration. The data Dr. Tom discusses is based on experimental runs conducted four years after this land was taken out of CRP and then continuously treated with a moldboard plow, a chisel plow and no-till. With the use of TDR probes that sense moisture at 10 cm (4inches) and 40 cm (16 inches), Dr. Tom shows what happens to soil moisture at 4 and 16 inches in the moldboard plow treatment and what the runoff consequences are and he briefly compares them to the other two treatments. In the next video we will continue as Dr. Tom walks us through the no-till and chisel plow treatments.
While soils are made up of solid materials (sand, silt, clay and organic materials), Dr. Tom Schumacher, SDSU (retired) shows us how important soil structure or soil architecture is for soil hydrologic function, i.e., making water infiltrate and keeping water for the next crop. Natural soils have an architecture that includes a diversity of interconnected macropores, mesopores and micropores, when soil architecture is destroyed by tillage this is equivalent to a wrecking ball to a building, so while all of the components of the building/soil remain, it no longer functions as it was originally designed. Dr. Dwayne Beck finishes off the video by emphasizing that in natural systems, TILLAGE IS A CATASTROPHIC EVENT!. While in nature, we do see catastrophic events from time to time, tillage once or twice a year is catastrophic and will serve to continually degrade the very resource the farmer depends on.
From a purely technical standpoint, Dr. Tom adds the following: “I was working on something that required a quantitative look at pore sizes and I noticed that I took liberties with my pore classification terminology used in the video. The point that I wanted to make is still valid that pores of different sizes are important for different functions. However I do not want to get you in trouble with “pore size taxonomists”. There are several classification systems for mesopores and micropores. To make a point I used my own classification tht does not match the commonly used Luxmore, 1981 classification of greater than 1 mm (1000 um) macropores; 10-1000 um mesopores; less than 10 um micorpores. Pores greater than 1 mm drain quickly, pores between 1000 um and 30 um drain more slowly but are usually empty at field capacity (around 3 days after being saturated), pores between either 30 and 10 um (depending on if sand or clay) and 3 um hold water that is easily available to crops, pores between 3 and 0.6 um hold water that is less available to the crop slowing growth, pores 0.6 to o.3 um hold water that is more difficult for plants likely resulting in stress, pores 0.3 to 0.2 um hold water that is difficult for crops to extract and will likely result in significant wilting but recovery at night under low transpiration., pores less than 0.2 um in diameter hold water unavailable to most crops, they wilt and do not recover. As you can see I oversimplified the terminology to make a point, and you may wish to clarify.”
In this video, we recap the last 11 videos on our Merit or Myth Series that deal with residue and tillage. We sum up the information provided by our farmers and researchers, from West River to East River of South Dakota. As we consider the statement: “Farming without tillage and with surface residue is not only possible, it works!” we have to ask “Merit or Myth?”. It’s up to the viewer to decide.
This is the third part of a three part series in Dr. Anderson’s 10-minute talk on his spiral of regeneration.
Dr. Randy Anderson, Research Agronomist with the USDA-ARS in Brookings, SD, shares with us his spiral of soil regeneration. The concept of the spiral had its genesis in Dr. Anderson’s work in no-till where he observed a number of interactive biological effects at work. In this third video, Dr. Anderson provides a real-life example of two winter wheat scenarios based on tillage and crop rotation. It’s often that the farmer’s eye test is all that needs to be done to see where the advantage is, no degree in agronomy required! We hope this and the next two videos in the series give you a much better grasp of what happens when you begin to disturb your soils less!
Dr. Randy Anderson, Research Agronomist with the USDA-ARS in Brookings, SD, shares with us his spiral of soil regeneration. The concept of the spiral had its genesis in Dr. Anderson’s work in no-till where he observed a number of interactive biological effects at work. In this second video, Dr. Anderson walks us through the benefits to the farmer of regeneration that include better soil hydrology, better yields, better weed tolerance in crop plants and healthier plants. We hope this and the next two videos in the series give you a much better grasp of what happens when you begin to disturb your soils less!
This is the first part of a three part series in Dr. Anderson’s 10-minute talk on his spiral of regeneration.
Dr. Randy Anderson, Research Agronomist with the USDA-ARS in Brookings, SD, shares with us his spiral of soil regeneration. The concept of the spiral had its genesis in Dr. Anderson’s work in no-till where he observed a number of interactive biological effects at work. We hope this and the next two videos in the series give you a much better grasp of what happens when you begin to disturb your soils less!
A decade or two ago, a saying went: “no-till, no yield”. Today, Dave Ollila, ag producer and SDSU Extension Sheep Field Specialist, says “no-till, no brainer” and that’s especially true for him where every drop of moisture counts. No-till allows Dave to keep undisturbed the root system he has worked so hard to develop below ground in his diversified operation. More roots, and always an above ground cover of either residue or a live plant canopy protects his soil, increases trafficability, reduces ponding, and ensures that every precious drop of rain falling goes into his soil. The take-home from this video is that while you need a sprayer and a drill to do no-till, no-till is not about the equipment, it’s about the mindset. While this video may not provide answers to “tell me what I need to do”, we’d like you to think on the mindset part and walk with us through the videos in this series and especially the next three where Dr. Randy Anderson walks us through the nuts and bolts of soil dynamics and how no-till systems can be the first step to regenerating soils. How about that for good news?
In this second video of our time Dr. Pete Sexton, SDSU farm manager at the Southeastern Research Station Beresford, SD, Dr. Sexton walks us through some of the broad brush strokes of a change to no-till. While the overall cost of no-till is lower, the immediate impact being a reduction in tillage expens, there are things that one needs to pay attention to. Let’s face it, a change to no-till is not trivial! Dr. Sexton wants new no-tillers to learn from the experience they have had in Beresford namely: (1) a small increase in nitrogen demand as the soils adjust to no-till (more microbes in the soils), (2) a changed weed regime, and the importance of a good burn-down at or before planting. (3) ensuring that the combine is distributing residue properly and not leaving windrows and (4) ensuring the planter is set up for the no-till conditions. One somewhat less talked about benefit of no-till is this idea of trafficability – the experience in Beresford is that they are able to get in their no-till plots (right next to the tilled plots) sooner for field operations. An extreme example is the clip of Dick Nissen (Vermillion, SD) in his field (planted with soybeans) and a neighbor’s field. The neighbor was forced to prevent-plant because of a wet spring.
In this video, Dr. Pete Sexton (SDSU Farm Manager at the Southeastern Research Station Beresford, SD) discusses the pros and cons of no-till versus conventional till. Based on the data, it appears that over several years, average yields between the two systems are no different from each other and that swings are often dependent on weather. What remains consistent, however, is that no-till is a sure-fire way to increase soil health and decrease production costs.
Despite this, the transition to no-till is a steep climb for most conventional farmers – not only in practice, but in mindset. Stay tuned as our next video will feature more from Dr. Sexton on that very topic!
The beautiful places and smiling faces across the great state of South Dakota gave us so much in 2016. From the bottom of our hearts, we’d like to thank every single individual that dedicated time, no matter how small, to assist us in our journey! Please help us in our campaign to make South Dakota soils as great as the people who enjoy them by sharing our vision with others! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!