One may take the view that soils are a static, medium to grow plants and place nutrients. If one holds this static view of soils, what the Jorgensens have been able to achieve would simply not make sense; at best it would appear anomalous. If one holds the view that soils are living, dynamic ecosystems that can improve good management, then what the Jorgensens have seen is consistent with that view of soils. One measure that the Jorgensens have monitored over the last 15 years (they have been full no-tilled since 1991) is soil organic matter and the organic matter of their lands has steadily increased to mimic, and in some cases exceed what they see in the native prairie. And Jorgensen Land and cattle is benefiting in spades in both tangible financial and in intangible ways. Their case is not an anomaly, in other words, the principles that the Jorgensens apply are universal – and wherever you farm in South Dakota, or for that matter, elsewhere, you can build your soils too!
Principles of soil health are:
1. Limit disturbance (this would include the tool of no-till)
2. Keep the soil covered, either by residue or a canopy
3. Keep a live root in the soil as many days of the year as possible – when you don’t have a cash crop, use a cover crop to maintain that live root
4. Add diversity – this can be done with cash crops (e.g., small grains added to a corn-soybean rotation) and cover crops – if you use a 5 to seven way mix in your cover crop, your diversity inex goes way up.