January 18-19, 2022
Best Western Ramkota Hotel
1400 8th Ave NW, Aberdeen, SD 57401

A block of rooms has been reserved under “SD Soil Health Coalition” at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel for the Soil Health Conference at the rate of $94.99 per night. The rooms must be reserved by Dec. 17, 2021.

Registration for the conference is $50 per person, and there will be an option to view portions of the event online. Students may register for the conference at no cost, and they may enter photo and essay contests for a chance to win up to $400. More information about the conference may be found at Questions about the event may be directed to the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition at 605-280-4190 or

Here is an article with more information from the keynote speakers.


As you gather with loved ones this Thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect on what you’re most thankful for this year. Wishing you an amazing holiday filled with many happy moments.


The USDA Plant Materials Program helps establish community gardens to produce food for local charitable groups and/or plants to educate and beautify the community.

The production of vegetables and fruit is an important source of fresh food and nutrition to small communities and individuals. These guides are designed to help communities and individuals improve their production techniques to succeed in these efforts. While the guides were written specifically for the Great Lakes area of the US, they are indeed applicable across the entire northern United States, southern Canada, and anyplace where a longer growing season is desired.

For assistance or more information, feel free to contact us!


A Guide to Native Plantscaping

“Helping people help the land.”

Why Is Native Landscaping Important?

Native landscaping provides an attractive, environmentally friendly landscape while reducing water and maintenance requirements. Do you want a beautiful yard, garden, school, park, or parking area?

The information in this publication will help you select and grow native plants that are naturally adapted and will thrive for years under the extreme environmental conditions of South Dakota. This booklet provides an overview of native
landscaping principles and practices. It integrates the principles of reduced water, energy, and chemical usage; wildlife habitat enhancement; and invasive weed management. Native plant, in the context of this booklet, means native to South Dakota, with a few exceptions.

Native prairie grasses and wildflower are excellent alternatives to traditional landscaping. They are less expensive to maintain than turf, require minimal rainfall, and are attractive all year long. Generally, only 50 percent of an existing lawn is actively used. Turf is the highest water-user and requires the most labor in a traditional landscape. Reducing the amount of turf will save time and money. Consider using a warm-season alternative turf grass, such as blue grama or buffalograss. These grasses are different from normal lawns. They are slower to green in the spring, quicker to go dormant in the fall, and require less mowing.

The Minnehaha Conservation District can make these native plants and wildflowers available to you next spring. We might as well have fun during these winter months ahead, right?

Have fun with your planning!

By Stan Wise

Sometimes a little chaos provides an opportunity for growth.

This chaos garden in the West Whitlock Recreation Area entertained local residents who enjoyed searching through the garden for the different types of produce they wanted. Courtesy photo.

That’s certainly the case with a chaos garden, also called a milpa garden. It’s a similar concept to the three sisters garden in which the three “sisters” of corn, beans and squash are planted together because each one benefits the growth of the others. The corn provides a tall stalk for the beans to climb, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the large leaves of squash shade the ground, preserving moisture and suppressing weeds.

In a milpa garden, even more types of plants are included in the mix, and rather than being planted in neat rows, the vegetables are spread evenly across the garden. The result is a chaotic tangle of produce that offers more than just food.

The chaos garden in the West Whitlock Recreation Area grew many different types of produce including squash and pumpkins. Courtesy photo.

This year, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks District Park Supervisor Ryan Persoon discovered that a milpa garden can help bring a community together. This spring, he was approached by Dan Forgey, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Board member and longtime Cronin Farms agronomy manager, who had a bag of seed.

“He mentioned he had this bag of seed that, at the time, he described as a milpa garden and a community garden,” Persoon said. “I didn’t know anything about what this was. Community kind of stuck in my head.”

Persoon runs the West Whitlock Recreation Area, which is next to a resort with summer residents, and he thought he could plant the garden in the park, and the people in the resort community could help grow the garden and then reap some of the rewards by taking some produce.

“At the time I didn’t really know what was in this bag of seed,” he said. “It was entertaining for us to plant this, see it grow, and see what would come to fruition and how it would impact our community. And I have to say it was quite the project. It was something I was very proud to be involved in.”

South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Soil Health Technician Baylee Lukonen’s milpa garden contained 30 different species of plants. SD Soil Health Coalition photo.

The community became very involved in the garden. “The excitement of the unknown was what we enjoyed the most out of it,” Persoon said. “It was thick. There was a lot of stuff to sort through. People enjoyed looking through it to find what they wanted, and that adds to the excitement of it.”

Persoon said the garden contained several different types of squash, pumpkins, turnips, Swiss chard, and other produce. “I saw certain people putting their names on some squash because they didn’t want them picked before they were ripe,” he said. “It’s a community, so everybody kind of shared in it, and it was really quite neat.”

In addition to bringing the community together, the garden benefitted pollinators and wildlife. “It was attractive for pollinators, for birds, and I have no doubt this winter when a lot of the brassicas and the squash, the pumpkins freeze down, the deer are going to be all over those squash and pumpkins,” Persoon said.

Next year, he said, “we’re definitely going to do something like this again if not pretty much exactly the same thing again.”

Produce from South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Soil Health Technician Baylee Lukonen’s milpa garden went to the students at the Boys and Girls Club of Watertown, who visited the garden during the summer to learn about soil health. SD Soil Health Coalition photo.

A milpa garden also offers soil health benefits.

“All of the soil is pretty well covered, and there’s something living on almost every square inch,” SDSHC Soil Health Technician Baylee Lukonen said. “When they call this a chaos garden sometimes, that’s exactly what it is. The plants are all working together.”

Lukonen grew a milpa garden on her farm near Watertown this year. “It was really cool to see that certain plants that have vining tendencies would actually vine up the sunflowers or the taller millet,” she said. “That’s how they were getting their sunlight. It’s just really cool to see all of it working together aboveground, and if it’s working together aboveground, there’s definitely a lot happening belowground that we can’t see.”

Lukonen also used her garden to interact with the community. She invited the local Boys and Girl Club to bring students out to her farm each week to learn about soil health and pollinators.

“We thought it was a great idea,” Watertown Boys and Girls Club Prevention Coordinator Brad Drake said. “We’re always looking for additional programs for the kids, particularly if there’s an educational component.”

“The Boys and Girls Club brought out a group of about 10-15 kids every Thursday for a good portion of the summer,” Lukonen said. “We just taught them about different things in the soil, soil properties, and we also taught them about the milpa garden and how everything that is in the milpa garden can grow together without being separated and planted into rows, which is different than your traditional garden.”

The students ranged in age from 8 to 12 years old.

Students from the Boys and Girls Club of Watertown helped to spread seed for a milpa garden. Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Watertown.

“There was a real emphasis on soil health, of course, so they talked a lot about cover cropping,” Drake said. “It wasn’t always the same kids each week that went out, but some of them got to see the whole process from the planting, to learning why it was important, to how these various crops have benefitted the soil, and different nutrients they added or drew up and made available.”

Lukonen said the only challenging aspect to a milpa garden is that it is difficult to harvest, but she had a suggestion on how to make it easier. “Next year I think we are going to create walkways,” she said. “If we want the kids to help with the harvest, we’re going to have to make walking paths throughout.”

Led by South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Soil Health Technician Baylee Lukonen (back left), students from the Boys and Girls Club of Watertown feed plants from a milpa garden to cattle. Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Watertown.

Gardeners who are interested in trying a milpa garden can contact the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition at or 605-280-4190.

Download a printer-friendly version of this article here.

SOURCE: South Dakota Soil Health Coalition


It can be hard to get bees to do their vital work in indoor farms or greenhouses. Instead, the plants may need a little robotic assistance to reproduce.

Photo: Rawpixel


Out in a field, tomato plants are pollinated either by wind shaking flowers or by bees, which fly into the flowers and vibrate, releasing the pollen into the air. But inside a greenhouse or indoor vertical farm, where there are no bees or wind, tomato plants need a little help—and soon, that help will arrive in some greenhouses in West Virginia in the form of a six-armed robot called StickBug.

The StickBug, a project from researchers at West Virginia University with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will use computer vision algorithms to map out indoor environments and learn where flowers on the plants are, and which flowers need to be pollinated. Then it will reach out its arms to pollinate those flowers. “There could potentially be coordinated action” using multiple arms, says Yu Gu, an engineering professor at WVU leading the team working on this project. “Say if a flower is behind a branch, it could have one arm move the branch away, and another pollinate.”

[Photo: WVU Robotics]

That’s a challenging action from a robotics point of view, but that’s part of the point of the four-year project. “A lot of this is for advancing robotics as much as improving agriculture,” Gu says. The project received $750,000 in funding from the Department of Agriculture through the National Robotics Initiative.

The work on StickBug builds off of Gu’s previous work on a robotic pollinator called BrambleBee. That robot pollinated blackberries and raspberries, and was developed as a proof of concept that robots can do precision pollination (“We’re trying to, like an insect, get in each flower,” Gu says) and not only pollinate by broadly blowing air or shaking plants, like other machines used in indoor farming.

The StickBug project will tackle some of the greater robotic challenges with pollinating, like speeding up the process so it can meet production requirements. While BrambleBee had just one arm, StickBug’s six appendages have the ability to pollinate more flowers at the same time. The StickBug project will also work with growers, who may not have specialized knowledge of robots. Gu and his team want to develop a low-cost robot that growers can easily accept into their process. And while the BrambleBee focused only on bramble plants, this project will study how well the robots can pollinate tomatoes, an important economic crop that flowers year-round, as well as blackberries.

There are a few reasons growers may need a robot to help them pollinate their crops. One is the decline of bees, which are currently struggling in the face of colony collapse disorder, harmful pesticides, and climate change. But there are also certain places bees don’t like, or places they can’t really exist. “There is a concern about bee shortage, which is real,” Gu says, adding, “there are a lot of agriculture settings not friendly to bees,” like growth chambers or the growing world of indoor vertical farming. “Those are not places designed for bees to be happily living in, so we’re hoping to tackle those environments.”

Gu sees robotic and insect pollinators both being vital to growers in the future, depending on the setting or time of year. “We’re not interested in taking away bees’ jobs, and we want bees to be happy,” he says. “But there’s also room for technological innovation. They can coexist, and they can all bring benefits to society.”

SOURCE: Fast Company


PIERRE, SD – Rick Smith didn’t set out to start a multi-species grazing operation when he took over his family’s farm southwest of Watertown, SD. With higher farm commodity prices in the 70s, he was growing more grain, but when the 1980s Farm Crisis struck, he decided to plant most of his land back to grass and raise more cattle.

Everything else came later.

“It was kind of one of those things, the old 4-H projects. I had three daughters, and they kind of got going on the sheep,” Smith said. “So, then it kind of just grew, and we got a few more of those, and along the way my wife was interested in horses.”

Today, he has a 110-head cow-calf herd and a retired band of 15 broodmares from his years of horse breeding. He also has an 80-head ewe flock and does dry lot lamb finishing and breeding ram sales. Smith’s cows graze separately, but he will allow his ewes to graze with either his yearling heifers or his horses.

While he didn’t add the sheep to his operation because he wanted to improve his land management, Smith has found they have certain benefits.

Weed control

“If nothing else, it’s a tremendous weed control,” he said. “The ewes prefer any broadleaf weed or clover over grass.”

Before Smith started grazing sheep, he sprayed his pastures for weeds once every four or five years. “When we started running the sheep,” he said, “it was like, ‘Wow. There’s nothing up there to go spray.’”

It took a little time, however, for Smith to figure out the best way to use the sheep for weed control. He first tried to graze them rotationally as he does his cattle and keep them moving between different paddocks using hotwire. That’s when he discovered the sheep preferred some of the weeds and clovers, but only if they were under 6 inches tall. “If they get taller than that, (sheep) won’t touch ‘em,” he said. When he would move the sheep back into a paddock they hadn’t grazed in a while, the weeds would be too tall, and the sheep wouldn’t eat them.

So, Smith decided that if the sheep preferred the weeds but only when they’re smaller, he would let them have continuous access to a larger portion of land and let them move anywhere they want and feed on the plants that they prefer. All of Smith’s sheep pastures have perimeters of five barbed wires with posts about 16 feet apart. His cross fences for horses and cattle allow sheep to travel under a raised wire in traffic areas.

“You’ll see them on one side of the quarter, then the other side of the quarter, then back down in the bottom, and up on top – all in a morning,” he said. “They’re just searching out those little tidbits along the way.”

Anywhere the ewes are allowed to graze continuously, they will control or eliminate almost any broadleaf weed. The exceptions to that, Smith said, are cockle bur, biennial thistle and star thistle. He said the sheep will keep Canada thistle from spreading, but they won’t eliminate it.

SOURCE: SD Soil Health Coalition


This year’s Spirit of Dakota Award was presented to Angela Ehlers of Presho, SD. The award is given annually to an outstanding South Dakota woman who has demonstrated leadership qualities and has been successful and admired in her community and state.

Angela serves as the executive director for the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districtsa role she has been dedicated to for 32 years. She has been working and caring for her community and state throughout her life and is a driving force for conservation. Her leadership helps to ensure the people of South Dakota have a healthier environment.

Congratulations, Angela!


We need your input, please!

We are asking for individuals interested in gardening and exploring urban agriculture to take part in the survey to help us gain insight into community needs. Please take a few minutes to respond to our 10-question survey.

If you have any questions or need further information, contact Alina Krone-Hedman.


On Friday, Oct. 8the National Association of Conservation Districts and a coalition of 165 leading agriculture, conservation and wildlife groups delivered a letter to Congress urging them to ensure that the proposed $28 billion investment into U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agriculture conservation programs and conservation technical assistance remains in the final budget reconciliation package.

“Increasing funding for USDA’s popular and effective Farm Bill conservation programs is one of the quickest and most practical ways to energize rural economies, improve climate resilience, and ensure that our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters are part of the solution to climate change,” the coalition wrote.

The letter asks lawmakers to maintain the proposed investment into conservation programs and climate-smart agriculture, which will ramp up conservation technical assistance on the ground.

“This would be the largest investment into agriculture conservation in decades and would be transformative for farms, ranches, and forests across the country,” the groups wrote.

Read the full press release here.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a comprehensive set of investments to address challenges facing America’s agricultural producers. These include assistance to address challenges and costs associated with drought, animal health, market disruptions for agricultural commodities, and school food supply chain issues. Secretary Vilsack also outlined and requested public comments on a new climate partnership initiative designed to create new revenue streams for producers via market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.

“American agriculture currently faces unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts,” said Vilsack. “The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every stage of our food supply chain, from commodity production through processing and delivery. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners increasingly experience the impacts of climate change as severe storms, floods, drought and wildfire events damage their operations and impact their livelihoods. We know these challenges will continue into 2022, and others may emerge. Through this comprehensive set of investments, USDA will take action to prevent the spread of African Swine Fever, assist producers grappling with drought and market disruptions, and help school nutrition professionals obtain nutritious food for students. Tackling these challenges head-on better positions USDA to respond in the future as new challenges emerge.”

Comprehensive Investment Package – Details Announced

USDA is preparing $3 billion in investments that will support drought resilience and response, animal disease prevention, market disruption relief, and purchase of food for school nutrition programs. The support will be made available via the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Specifically, funds will be used to provide:

  • $500 million to support drought recovery and encourage the adoption of water-smart management practices.From rising temperatures and heat waves, to early snow melt and low rainfall, record-breaking drought has affected producers across the country and has left ranchers with bare winter pastures and short on hay and pushed crop producers to adjust to running their operations with a fraction of the water usually available. This assistance will target these challenges and enable USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation agencies to deliver much needed relief and design drought resilience efforts responsive to the magnitude of this crisis.
  • Up to $500 million to prevent the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) via robust expansion and coordination of monitoring, surveillance, prevention, quarantine, and eradication activities through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. ASF outbreaks have proven devastating in other parts of the world due to lost production and trade. It is critical for all of us to work together to stop the spread of this disease.
  • $500 million to provide relief from agricultural market disruption, such as increased transportation challenges, availability and cost of certain materials, and other near-term obstacles related to the marketing and distribution of certain commodities, as part of Secretary Vilsack’s work as co-chair of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force.
  • Up to $1.5 billion to provide assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions. Throughout the pandemic, school food professionals have met extraordinary challenges to ensure every child can get the food they need to learn, grow and thrive. But circumstances in local communities remain unpredictable, and supply chains for food and labor have been stressed and at times disrupted. These funds will support procurement of agricultural commodities and enable USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to enhance the toolbox for school nutrition professionals working hard to make sure students have reliable access to healthy meals. Today’s announcement builds on the range of work that USDA has been doing to identify ongoing issues school districts face during this difficult time and provide the resources, tools and flexibility they need to serve students healthy and nutritious meals.

This set of targeted investments will address unmet needs in our food system, and complement a suite of programs USDA is implementing in response to COVID-19, including the Department’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative and the longer-term Build Back Better initiative designed to address supply chain vulnerabilities and transform our food system based on lessons from COVID-19.

Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative: Request for Information

USDA is committed to partnering with agriculture, forestry and rural communities to develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America. Today, Secretary Vilsack announced a new initiative to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities. Guided by science, USDA will support a set of pilot projects that provide incentives to implement climate smart conservation practices on working lands and to quantify and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices. The pilots could rely on the Commodity Credit Corporation’s specific power to aid in expansion or development of new and additional markets. The Department published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment and input on design of new initiative.

“Through extreme weather, drought and fire, our agriculture producers are on the frontlines of climate change,” said Vilsack. “The new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative will support pilots that create new market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices and position U.S. farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners as leaders in addressing climate change. The pilots will invest in the science, monitoring and verification to measure the benefits of these climate smart practices. Today, we ask for public input to inform our decision making and enhance the design of this initiative.”

Comments may be provided on or before 11:59 p.m. EST on November 1, 2021 via the Federal Register, Docket ID: USDA-2021-0010. Feedback will be used to inform design of the new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative. USDA is seeking input specifically on:

  • The current state of climate-smart commodity markets,
  • Systems for quantification,
  • Options and criteria for evaluation,
  • Use of information collected,
  • Potential protocols,
  • Options for review and verification,
  • Inclusion of historically underserved communities.

Comments are encouraged from farmers and farmer organizations, commodity groups, livestock producer groups, environmental organizations, agriculture businesses and technology companies, environmental market organizations, renewable energy organizations, Tribal organizations and governments, organizations representing historically underrepresented producers, organizations representing historically underrepresented communities and private corporations.

USDA is committed to equity in program delivery and explicitly seeks input on how to best serve historically underrepresented producers and communities. This aligns with the Justice40 initiative, an effort to ensure that Federal agencies work with states and local communities to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

Insights gained through this process will inform development of a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) soliciting Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative project proposals that encourage the adoption of climate-smart practices and promote markets for climate-smart commodities. USDA plans to announce the NOFA this fall, with project proposals accepted early next year.

Click here to see more…


By Chuck Abbott

 Slightly more than half of the country’s biggest farmers say they planted cover crops this year, indicating a broadening acceptance of the crops’ benefits for soil health, even with the accompanying complication they bring to land management, said Purdue’s Ag Economy Barometer on Tuesday. Cover crops received prominent attention this year as a potential way to earn money from a carbon contract while mitigating climate change on the farm.

Most of the farmers with cover crops were relative newcomers, according to the Purdue survey of 400 producers. Half of the farms reported growing cover crops for five years or less and on 25% or less of their land. Only a quarter of the farmers said they have planted cover crops for more than 10 years.

In 2017, cover crops were planted on a comparative sliver of U.S. cropland, 15.4 million acres on 153,400 farms, although a 50% increase in acreage from 2012, according to the USDA.

Growers with cover crops overwhelmingly – 81% – told Purdue the crops improved soil health and crop yields. One in seven reported “improves soil health but not crop yields.”

But 48% of farmers polled by Purdue said they abandoned cover crops in the past or have never planted them for reasons that included “lack of resources,” “not profitable,” “hurt yields,” and “insufficient soil benefits.” Cover crops require additional fieldwork to sow and later kill the plants to make room for cash crops. Growers face additional expenses for seed and potentially for equipment to handle the cover crops.

Advocates say cover crops are a long-term investment in soil health that reduces erosion and nutrient runoff, smothers weeds, helps to control pests and diseases, and increases biodiversity. “Cover crops have also been shown to increase crop yields, break through a plow pan, add organic matter to the soil, improve crop diversity on farms, and attract pollinators,” said the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education initiative.

Financial incentives from government and private groups have been a driver in adoption of cover crops as part of farming operations. In 2018, financial assistance was paid on one-third of the land planted to cover crops. Early this year, the USDA said it would provide a premium support of $5 an acre on crop insurance policies for farmers who planted cover crops this year.

The monthly Ag Barometer also found rising expectations among farmers of steep increases in the prices of farm inputs, such as seeds, fuel, and fertilizer. Some 48% expect prices to rise by 8% or more, compared with 38% a month earlier. One-third of respondents said they believe increases will exceed 12%. The USDA has forecast a 7.3% increase in production costs this year; it would be the largest outlay, $383.5 billion, in five years.

Farmer confidence slipped by 14 points in September, part of an abrupt 54-point collapse since April when high commodity prices and the U.S. economic recovery inspired optimism. The barometer now stands at 124, its lowest reading since July 2020, said Purdue.

The Ag Economy Barometer is based on a telephone survey of 400 operators with production worth at least $500,000 a year. USDA data say the largest 7.4% of U.S. farms top $500,000 in annual sales.

The Ag Economy Barometer is available here.

A set of accompanying charts, including seven on cover crops, is available here.

SOURCE: Successful Farming


 Conservation Implementation Strategy (CIS) Project, The Minnehaha Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (MSAI) will soon be underway in northeastern Minnehaha County, serving Sioux Falls and the surrounding community while also working to improve land quality. This 3-year project is one of 17 selected in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 and federally-funded through Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The purpose of this project is to address resource concerns surrounding plant and soil health/quality though the use of conservation practices, such as:  High Tunnels, Cover Crops, Filter Strips, and other supporting practices. This initiative will be implemented by the Minnehaha Conservation District (MCD) in collaboration with farmers, ranchers, and landowners. Farmers, ranchers, and landowners within the project area are eligible to apply for financial assistance. The batching date deadline for applications is October 22, 2021.

The NRCS’ conservation specialists and partners are coordinating these projects throughout the state. Through collectively focusing expertise and resources on the most significant resource concerns in the highest priority areas, CIS projects can yield highly impressive returns. Collaborative funding and support from other agencies and groups create a coordinated community effort, as well as focus on mutual issues of concern. The MSAI is a partnership between the MCD and SD NRCS to directly benefit local producers in their pursuit of providing fresh quality products to the community. Project sponsors identified degraded plant quality, soil quality limitations, erosion, and pest pressure as resource concerns and developed this CIS project to address the situation. “We see this as an excellent opportunity to contribute to community vitality in Minnehaha County through placing an emphasis on improving plant and soil quality,” says Alina Krone-Hedman, Urban Conservation Education Coordinator, for the MCD in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

To apply to be a part of this project, find and contact your local NRCS Service Center at, or contact Brian Top at or at (605) 359-5108, or Alina Krone-Hedman at or at (605) 595-8052. For more information on the CIS in South Dakota, or if you have ideas for a project, visit, or contact Jeffrey Vander Wilt, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, at or (605) 352-1226.

The USDA’s Service Centers are open for business. Farmers, ranchers, and landowners can call or e-mail to make in-person appointments at USDA Service Centers across the country. Find and contact your local NRCS Service Center at


Soil health practices can make farms and ranches more productive and more profitable, but that isn’t the only reason to use conservation methods. Improved soil health means improved operational resilience and sustainability over time. That means it’s more likely the farm or ranch will still be around for the next generations.

Crystal Neuharth, a local mentor for soil health and the 2021 Leopold Award winner, explains her motivation behind practicing soil health on her operation, “Our goal is just to keep the farm around and keep it sustainable for our future generations, not just for our kids but for generations farther down the road.”

This three and a half minute video highlights the children of producers who are learning the value of soil health practices as they grow up. When they eventually take over operations, they won’t know any other way to farm. The improvements they will make to their soil, their farms and ranches, their landscape, and their communities will be the true legacy of their parents. 

SOURCE: NRCS South Dakota


October 9, 2021 from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm CDT
Southeast Gregory County, South Dakota

When: Oct. 9, 10 am CDT
Where: Near Pickstown, southeast Gregory County, South Dakota

  • Watch goats in action browsing on cedars
  • Talk with Extension personnel about cedar management
  • Learn how cedars respond to goat browsing

Directions from Pickstown, SD: Travel all the way across to the west end of the Randall Dam. Take a left onto Toe Road W, then take the first right onto Ft. Randall Road and straight onto County Road 56. At about 3/4 of a mile, turn left into the mowed parking area.

For more information, please contact SDSU Extension personnel:

  • Kelly Froehlich, Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Small Ruminant Production Specialist
  • Sean Kelly, SDSU Extension Range Management Field Specialist
  • Sandy Smart, SDSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Senior Program Leader
  • Alanna Hartsfield, SDSU Graduate Research Assistant


Soil is maybe not something everyone thinks about every day. However, soil is an important resource in our lives. It’s the foundation for healthy food production, clean air and water, abundant crops and forests, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. For these reasons, it is extremely important to preserve and protect soils by advocating and educating generations to come.

NACD’s 2022 Stewardship and Education materials, celebrating the theme “Healthy Soil: Healthy Life,” are now available for free download through NACD’s Conservation Education Hub. The development of the K-8 curriculum was made possible through the support and funding of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These free, downloadable materials provide a great opportunity for K-8 students to learn about soil health, its benefits, and the role it plays in our everyday life. Students will also gain an appreciation for the number of people and amount of work involved in food production and learn how to pursue soil scientist careers.


PIERRE, S.D. – The Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) in cooperation with AgUnited for South Dakota, South Dakota Dairy Producers, South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, Central Plains Dairy Foundation, and East River Electric Power Cooperative have released an economic contribution study of South Dakota Agriculture.

“This study confirms the resiliency of agriculture related industries in South Dakota,” said DANR secretary Hunter Roberts. “Over the past few years, we have seen floods, a pandemic, and now drought. The continued success of the industry is a testament to the hard-working farmers and ranchers in South Dakota.”

Based on the study agriculture, forestry, and related industries contribute:

  • $32.1 billion to South Dakota’s economy which is 29.3 percent of South Dakota’s total economic output.
  • 129,753 jobs in South Dakota which is 21.1 percent of all jobs in South Dakota.
  • $11.7 billion in total value added including $5.6 billion from livestock production, $3.3 billion from corn production, $2 billion from other agriculture industries, and $860 million from forestry production.

The study was prepared by Decision Innovation Solutions.

To view the full study, visit

By Julia Gerlach, No-Till

Moving livestock from place to place is nothing new, but a new solar-powered, autonomous system with integrated water collection may make it easier than ever.

ON THE MOVE. The Stock Cropper ClusterCluck Nano is a solar-powered, fully autonomous mobile grazing barn designed to boost farm biodiversity through living roots and integrated livestock. During a field day demo, the sheep in the barn had access to the front pen; the rear pen housed several pigs.

At the end of 2019, when corn prices bottomed out at about $2.70 per bushel, Zack Smith realized he would need to find new ways to be profitable on his 305 acres of strip-tilled corn and soybeans. 

With a lifelong interest in conservation, as well a drive to break out of the confines of traditional ag practices, the Buffalo Center, Iowa, grower looked for solutions that didn’t rely on the ‘get big or get out’ mindset.

“The goal was to find a way that relatively small farmers could stay viable without having to just go find another 500 or 1,000 acres to farm,” he says.

Smith considered relay cropping, but his northern Iowa location near the Minnesota border made seeding a profitable third crop a tall order. 

In conversations with friends Sheldon Stevermer and Lance Peterson, strip intercropping seemed like a possible solution — but the idea quickly shifted from focusing only on plants to including livestock in the mix.

“The first idea was just to include a pen of sheep that we would make mobile somehow,” he says. “But everyone says there’s not enough biodiversity in ag right now, so we figured why not make it a three-ring circus of biodiversity with plants and animals so that it actually addresses soil health?”

So Smith created the Stock Cropper … 

Design Details

From those early 2020 conversations, the Stock Cropper — a solar-powered, fully autonomous mobile barn to facilitate livestock grazing — was born. 

Smith has built and tested several models and is currently ironing out details with Dawn Equipment, the company that’s handling the engineering, design and manufacturing of the mobile barns. 

The ClusterCluck Nano, which was demonstrated at Jason Mauck’s Gaston, Ind., field day on July 17, 2021, featured an 8½-foot barn and two fenced paddock enclosures — one in the front and one in the back. Smith also has a 20-foot barn and a 30-foot barn on his own farm. 

The four solar panels charge two 12-volt on-board batteries that can store 200 amp hours. This is more than enough power to perform the typical two or three 8-foot barn movements per day, opening up the opportunity to utilize the excess electrical energy for other uses on the farm.

An inverted roof with a central gutter fills two water tanks, each of which holds 16 gallons, for a total of 32 gallons on board to keep the animals hydrated. Excess water can be diverted to the crops bordering the barn.

The fence at the front of the unit has a toothed bottom edge, designed to go through vegetation. 

“We didn’t want a solid bar out front because if there’s a chest-high pasture or forage crop, we wanted it to be able to move through the crop without breaking the crop off,” he says. “With the toothed edge, it moves through that crop unencumbered, bringing the animals with it so they have the ability to graze.”

The Stock Cropper moves at a rate of 30 inches per minute, so it takes 3 minutes for the barn to move 8 feet. An airbag system with an air compressor, also powered by the solar cells, allows the barn to be elevated prior to moving. The barn is then set back down on the ground so predators can’t get in and the livestock can’t get out.

“The idea is for the barn and attached pens to be completely programmable and steerable and have it do whatever the farmer wants, whether that be moving a set distance twice a day or gear it down to creep along continually at a really slow pace,” he says. 

Programmable computers on board will allow for total control and monitoring from a mobile device.

Vertical Integration

Besides boosting soil health through diversity, Smith feels the Stock Cropper will also allow more farmers to take advantage of vertical integration and direct-market a product that the consumer is interested in buying in a transparent fashion, namely high-quality meats raised in a regenerative manner. He sees it as a way to sequester more carbon in the soil as well.

“There’s a ton of interest in carbon markets, but much of it is creating false hope that we’re doing anything meaningful,” he says. “If we really want to address carbon fixation, we’ve got to do things like permaculture-based pastures, where we’re pumping carbon into the ground with roots, and we’ve got to integrate livestock. 

“We can’t just grow a cover crop in a corn-soybean rotation and think we’re solving all of our problems. We’ve got to find ways to bring more biodiversity back to the land.”



With much interest in soil health and crop diversity, interest in cover crops has increased greatly in recent times. 

By David Karki, SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist

Although the 2021 growing season in South Dakota has been impacted by widespread drought and record-high temperatures, especially in June and July, the recent rain events have brought the cover crop thoughts back into producers’ minds. Generally, following small grains (harvest or early season hay crop), a wide range of cover crops species can be selected due to the ample seasonal window for good growth and establishment. However, for the row crop growers who like to practice a strict corn-soybean rotation, the species selection is limited. Winter rye or cereal rye has been a go-to cover crop choice among many row crop growers in the Midwest, including South Dakota.

One of the most important attributes that winter rye possesses over other winter cereals, like winter wheat or triticale, is its tolerance to extreme cold temperatures. Further, rapid early spring growth and allelopathetic characteristics (ability to suppress growth of other plant species) to suppress tough weeds have also been favored by producers.

Crop Diversity and Rotation

Cereal rye is a cool-season grass species that provides much-needed diversity to the corn-soybean system that consists of two warm-season crops. Planting rye after corn and ahead of soybean is a better fit, because soybeans can tolerate later plating in the spring better than corn, which allows rye to accumulate more spring biomass. Studies conducted in southeast South Dakota have not shown any negative impact in soybean yields when planted in late May to early June in fields with preceding rye cover crops. Also, soybeans generally do not show negative impact on yield due to preceding rye cover crop. The sequence of winter rye within the cropping sequence is very important to maintain the agronomic performance of both cash crops. Rye, when planted after soybean and terminated close to corn planting, has shown negative effects on corn in South Dakota environments. However, when rye was terminated at least two weeks prior to corn planting, it has negated those detrimental effects. More studies are needed to examine the true effects of rye cover crops on subsequent corn crop.

Planting Method and Spring Biomass

Rye in the fall is generally planted by two different methods: 1) Broadcast at corn physiological maturity, and 2) Drill seeded after corn harvest. Another important aspect of the rye cover crop is spring biomass that can not only provide soil residue to enhance overall soil health but also supplemental forage. One question that arises frequently is the spring biomass differences between broadcast and drill-seeded methods. Studies conducted at the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Southeast Research Farm for several years have shown biomass from broadcast seeded to be 70 to 90% of the drill-seeded biomass. The difference in the range is largely due to the seeding time and precipitation following the broadcast seeding. For example, a study conducted in 2012-2013 reported 2,892 pounds and 3,267 pounds of dry matter per-acre for broadcast and drill-seeded rye respectively. The same study continued in the next season (2013-2014) reported the spring biomass of 1,950 pounds and 2,575 pounds dry matter per-acre. These studies sampled rye at heading stage in the spring.

Effects on Soybean Yields

Several studies done at the SDSU Southeast Research farm have shown no negative effects on soybean yields when grown after a rye cover crop. Yield estimates from the rye planting method and biomass study conducted in 2013 and 2014 had almost identical soybean yields for ‘control’ plots that did not have rye, broadcast seeded plots and drill-seeded plots. Another study conducted at the same farm in the 2018-2019 growing season showed no significant effects in soybean yields for five spring rye termination dates April 19, April 29, May 13, May 23 and May 31. The corresponding soybean yields were 70, 67, 67, 67 and 72 bushels per-acre.

Important Considerations

  • Seeding Rate: 40 pounds per-acre as cover crop; 70-75 pounds per-acre if weed suppression is the goal.
  • Best fit seems to be in a corn/soybean rotation, planting after corn.
  • Growth in the spring is usually good, even if the fall is dry.
  • If the spring is dry, spray out by early May. Rye grows rapidly in mid to late May– do not let it get away unless you are in dire need of biomass.
  • Soybean plants grown after late-terminated rye may show some sulfur deficiency in plant tissues, but yields have not been impacted by it.

Suggested Reading

SOURCE: SDSU Extension


Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) is a FREE nationwide tool to assist farm operators and land owners in evaluating their nutrient and soil loss management practices on individual fields. 

STAR encourages farmers and landowners to use management practices and make decisions that will reduce the nutrient and soil losses on their fields, and in return, they are provided recognition with a field sign recognizing their level of commitment to conservation. Ultimately, this program will help reduce the nutrient and soil losses from farmland over larger areas, and specifically the various water sheds, while engaging key stakeholders from all corners of the agriculture sector – retail, commodity, agency, and farmers. In addition, the practices encouraged by STAR will also result in improved soil health.

STAR was created by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, a not-for-profit government agency located in central Illinois. The program was developed in 2017 as a means to contribute to the important goals outlined in the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS), a plan developed jointly by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Since its creation, STAR has been adopted in many counties in Illinois by a multitude of organizations, including many soil and water conservation districts. Other states have also adopted STAR, including Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado to administer STAR in their area.

The initiative utilizes a simple field form that requests information from a farmer or non-operator landowner concerning individual fields for a given crop year. The STAR evaluation program assigns points for each cropping, tillage, nutrient application, and soil conservation activity on individual fields in addition to other “best management practices” as established by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA NRCS). STAR relies on the expertise of a science committee, made up of university researchers and other experts, to model ranking systems and ensure the field form is reflective of the specific and varying resource factors in the state. Once the field form is completed by a participant, the information is entered into a spreadsheet that assigns various points for the different practices used on that field. The summary of those points is then compared to a scale of points to give that field a “STAR Rating” of one to five stars.  

The potential benefits to participating landowners and farm operators are numerous, and include; 

  • Decreased nutrient loss
  • Promote a positive image of farmers and agriculture in your community
  • Support the work of soil and water conservation districts across the nation
  • Inspire other farmers and landowners to take action in helping to meet nutrient and sediment loss reduction goals 
  • Promote producers for new farmland leases
  • Assist producers in securing local conservation cost share
  • Assist producers in obtaining future market incentives for crops grown using conservation cropping practices.
  • Assist producers in obtaining documentation in support of water quality issues

DOWNLOAD and share the STAR flyer.