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3 Steps For Soil Health

3 Steps For Soil Health

Cover crops, pasture and pollinator habitat make a difference.

Mark Weinheimer, Pierre, S.D., has taken three interesting steps to improve soil health on his farm.

Mark Weinheimer examines a cover crop seeding in wheat stubble. Photo: NRCS South Dakota

1) He no-tills winter wheat, corn and sunflowers in a wheat-corn-sunflowers-corn rotation and plants cover crop mixes in mid-summer after the winter wheat and in the early spring before sunflowers. His spring cover crop cocktail consists of oats, mustard, vetch, lentils, turnips and annual ryegrass. In the fall, he seeds a flax, pea, turnip, radish, lentil and vetch mixture. Weinheimer says he is trying to keep live roots growing in the soil as long as possible. The cover crop after wheat grows from July or August until freeze up. The cover crop in the spring grows from April or May until sometime in June when he plants sprays it off so he can plant sunflower.

2) He converted 75 acres of cropland to grassland even though he doesn’t have cattle himself. He created four paddocks and rents the land to a neighbor for grazing for about a month each year. “I did it to see if we could build organic matter faster in this system than in my cropping system,” he says. Weinheimer also likes the idea that they could expand in the future by adding their own cattle to their operation. “I like knowing there’s an opportunity for growth,” he says.

3) He planted 40-foot wide strips on two sides of every grain field to a mixture of about 25 annuals and perennials that will attracts bees and other pollinators. “I’ve been very pleased with the results,” Weinheimer says. “Two years ago, we sprayed about half our sunflower acres for seed weevils. This year, we didn’t spray anything. Was it totally because of the new habitat? I don’t know, but that was our only change.”

Read more in the May issue of Dakota Farmer.

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