Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm. He runs a research facility in South Dakota that looks at maintaining and improving soil health in the prairie landscape. He uses a combination of machinery and agricultural management practices that attempt to mimic Mother Nature. His systems approach seems to be working. He has not used an insecticide in seven years. He has not applied any grassy weed control in his wheat crops since 1990. His energy costs required to grow a crop have been dropping and they hope to be energy self –sufficient by 2026. The biggest energy cost on his farm is the nitrogen fertilizer required to grow the yields required for profitability. They are using oilseeds to produce their fuel at this time. The foundation of his system is that farming is capturing sunlight and using water efficiently. Zero Till has been a big part of his program but all the tools that are available are used. It is not an organic farming system. It is set up so that it can be profitable by maximizing yield and reducing inputs. Crop rotation is a tool that he has found essential. The bottom line is that a healthy soil is essential to top level agricultural production. Trying to mimic the diversity of the prairie or native soil is one of his goals. Maintaining organic matter and the diversity of organisms in the soil has been a goal of the cropping practices on the farm. This diversity has allowed the reduction of fertilizer use and has created increased water efficiency. To do this, he has changed cultural practices on the farm. His approach is to nudge the soils back to a healthy state rather introducing drastic changes in cultural practices that upset the biodiversity of the environment in the soil. What works in South Dakota does not provide us with all the answers to farm soil management in Northern Saskatchewan. What this talk did do was suggest that our Zero Till approach to soil management that we are using in this area is heading the right direction. There will be no simple answer to solving all the issues that we need to deal with when it comes to growing the bushels that we will need to feed the world, but there are some sound principles that need to be followed to ensure that we get there as quickly as possible. Proper weed control, proper fertilizer usage and placement, proper seeding and tillage systems and proper pest control in general are all going to be necessary to develop a soil environment that will allow us in the farming community to hit the high crop yields that will be required in the future in a sustainable system. If you are interested in talking about what could work on your farm to improve yields, give us a call and we would be more than willing to talk the systems approach that is necessary to achieve the soil health that need to be in your fields.
By Dave Cubbon, P Ag