Sandwiched between our traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is a day of observance that doesn’t get a lot of attention. World Soil Day, on Dec. 5, focuses attention on the importance of healthy soil.
Although healthy soil is often taken for granted, it is essential. It gives us clean air and water and produces bountiful crops, vegetation and forests.
South Dakota farmers are some of the world’s best stewards of the land – for good reason. It benefits everyone when we preserve and manage our soil. After all, soil is the lifeblood of agriculture, and organic matter is the lifeblood of fertile soil.
As the global population continues to grow, farmers are called upon to produce more from every acre of land – in a cost-effective way that ensures a safe, affordable food supply. Having a healthy soil isn’t just for the sake of one season’s yields though. Maintaining and improving healthy soils is vital for the welfare of future generations.
That’s why farmers are using a variety of tools and technology and adopting effective farming practices that promotes soil biodiversity by building and maintaining subsurface nutrients.
Crop rotation is one time-tested, widely used practice that reduces erosion, improves soil health and increases nutrients. There is also growing use of cover crops, which help build organic matter and protect soil year-round.
Another step that has worked for many of us farmers is reduced tillage. Half of South Dakota’s farmed acres are now no-till, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. Many of us are using strip till, ridge till or other practices. There’s also a growing emphasis on planting buffer strips near rivers and streams. In addition to improving soil health, these farming practices increase carbon retention and protect water quality.
Another tool that farmers use is precision agriculture, which takes advantage of new technologies to increase crop yields while reducing the use of fertilizer, chemicals and fuel. That’s a win all the way around.
The South Dakota Corn Growers Association and Corn Utilization Council have found that partnerships – with organizations such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil Health Coalition – benefit both farming and the environment. We’re involved in several programs to improve soil health, improve water retention, increase soil carbon, address salinity issues and expand conservation acres.
We’re partnering with a number of organizations in a program named Every Acre Counts, which will focus primarily on finding better uses for marginal lands affected by wet conditions, saline or sodic soils and eroded areas such as hilltops.
Every Acre Counts should complement an ongoing program put together by South Dakota Corn, Pheasants Forever and South Dakota State University Extension that targets soils with high saline or sodic content. That project has helped establish habitat on unproductive soils. That rejuvenates the soil, helps the environment and provides wildlife habitat.
South Dakota Corn is also committed to building carbon in soil, something our state’s farmers have done well in recent years, according to results of extensive soil testing. A growing concern about climate change has raised the importance of removing carbon from the atmosphere, and farmers want to be part of the solution. Even ethanol production has gotten greener.
While farmers need to focus on economics to make a living, we also focus on the future. We want our farms to be even better for the next generation.