Combating drought conditions by implementing soil health practices

Local News

MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — While the drought has a wide spread reach, for those who implement conservation practices in their operations, the impact is a little less.

Farmers and ranchers from across South Dakota are spending multiple days learning about soil health practices at at Craig Stehly’s operation.

These practices such as no-till, crop rotation and cover crops are important now more than ever.

“I think the crops are holding in better than you would think, because we are about 7 inches below normal with a lot of heat. But by using no-till and having good soil health, it’ll be able to hold in quite a bit longer,” farmer Craig Stehly said.

Everyone’s operation has been affected differently by the drought.

“If the one set are using the soil health practices, they will definitely see the benefit of the moisture they are retaining and how their crop is responding to that,” said Levi Neuharth, Chairman of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition.

Ag producers not using soil health practices could see a crop yield that is 50% or lower. For those using the practices, they are only about 10% lower than normal.

But grasslands are even worse off right now.

“The grass really didn’t get a good start this year and its been dry through the whole summer. And so if we can get some moisture banked up, we will be looking better for next spring,” said Brian Johnson, a director of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition.

Until then, there is limited forage for the cattle.

“There’s been an inflex of cattle getting sent to town, getting sold. There’s producers all across South Dakota looking for places to put their cows, especially west river where it’s extremely dry,” Vice Chairman of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Shawn Freeland said.

Soil health can be improved on grasslands by growing perennials and doing rotational grazing.

“Getting livestock on the land, on the grassland, and having that animal diversity is a huge step, it’s one of our five principles of soil health, having livestock and diversity both above and below the ground,” Freeland said.

One resource offered through South Dakota’s soil health coalition to help with the livestock feeding issue is the grazing exchange, which connects producers who have extra crops with ranchers who need feed for their cattle.

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