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…

SOURCE: Farms.com

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 www.bit.ly/contactnrcssd, or contact Brian Top at topsoilsd@gmail.com or at (605) 359-5108, or Alina Krone-Hedman at minnehaha.urbanconservation@gmail.com or at (605) 595-8052. For more information on the CIS in South Dakota, or if you have ideas for a project, visit www.bit.ly/SDNRCS-CIS, or contact Jeffrey Vander Wilt, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, at jeffrey.vanderwilt@usda.gov 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 www.bit.ly/contactnrcssd.


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 https://danr.sd.gov/AboutDANR/EconomicStudy.aspx

By Julia Gerlach, No-Till Farmer.com

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.”

SOURCE: No-TillFarmer.com


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.

SOURCE: Starfreetool.com


The 2022 North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals is now open.

Farmers and ranchers in the North Central region are invited to submit grant proposals to explore sustainable agriculture solutions to problems on the farm or ranch. Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, profitable, and socially responsible. Proposals should show how farmers and ranchers plan to use their own innovative ideas to explore sustainable agriculture options and how they will share project results.

Farmer Rancher grants are for ideas initiated by farmers and ranchers and are offered as individual grants ($15,000 maximum) or team grants for two or more farmers/ranchers who are working together ($30,000 maximum). NCR-SARE expects to fund about 40 projects in the 12-state North Central Region with this call. A total of approximately $720,000 is available for this program. 

Interested applicants can find the call for proposals online as well as useful information for completing a proposal here. Applicants with questions can contact Joan Benjamin, Associate Regional Coordinator and Farmer Rancher Grant Program Coordinator, at benjaminj@lincolnu.edu or 573-681-5545.

Proposals are due on December 2, 2021, at 4 p.m. Central.


Is there someone in your circle of influence that has been deserving of recognition for their work in conservation? Do their contributions and the impact of those contributions deserve more than a polite “thank you?” Is there a project or program that was established or completed with great success due to their contributions?

Through the 2021 NACD Service Awards program, NACD provides you an opportunity to give national recognition to these outstanding individuals and organizations for their work and leadership in conservation. All nominees receive a certificate of honorable mention and the winners will be honored at the 2022 NACD Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida on February 15, 2022.

The NACD Service Awards are divided into two categories:
The Friend of Conservation Award recognizes an individual, business, organization or agency outside the association for outstanding contributions to the conservation of our nation’s natural resources. Any individual, business, organization or agency that is not directly associated with conservation districts at the local, state/territory or national level is eligible to receive this award.

The NACD Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual within the association, a conservation district or a state/territory association that has made significant contributions to the conservation and proper management of our nation’s natural resources. Nominees can be involved with districts or the association at any level, including past NACD officers. Nominations are also accepted for individuals posthumously.

Additionally, NACD is extending the deadline for nominations until Friday, September 10 to allow for additional submissions. Visit the NACD website to nominate your conservation leaders today, and to view previous award winners, visit the NACD Awards Archives.


You may be eligible for federal financial assistance to help you establish a pollinator planting

If you are a landowner, farmer, homesteader, beekeeper, or if you have interest in agricultural or forestry operations on your land, you may qualify for a special program to help cover some of the costs of a conservation or pollinator planting. (Photo by the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service)

Do you wish to establish a pollinator habitat on your owned or leased land? If you are a landowner, farmer, homesteader, beekeeper, or if you have interest in agricultural or forestry operations on your land, you may qualify for a special program to help cover some of the costs of a conservation or pollinator planting.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural and forestry producers to voluntarily establish environmental best practices on their land. This federal program was established 80 years ago when Congress recognized that soil depletion and wastage of water resources was a “menace to the national welfare,” according to the NRCS website. The program has evolved to help producers address a range of natural resource concerns such as improving water and air quality, conservation of ground and surface water, increasing soil health and reducing soil erosion and sedimentation, improving or creating wildlife habitat, and mitigating against drought.

Of the different environmental management programs administered through the NRCS, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) assists producers with pollinator habitat restoration. Technical assistants work with applicants to write a conservation plan specific to their land and production needs. If funded, the plan becomes a contract between the producer and the NRCS.

Once the management practices are implemented, an NRCS service provider inspects the improvement and the landowner is reimbursed per the agreed amount indicated on the contract. In other words, the applicant must initially pay for the conservation planting and then is partially reimbursed for their efforts. Per the NRCS website, historically underserved applicants may apply to receive advance payments to help cover the initial costs of the conservation practice.

Homesteaders and landowners can take advantage of this grant opportunity, but they will need to register their land as a farm with the USDA. This simple process provides the applicant with a farm number which is then used to apply for the NRCS EQIP grant.

The steps for applying for the NRCS EQIP Program include:

  1. Registering your land with your county USDA Farm Service Agency.
  2. Applying for EQIP through your county USDA NRCS Office.
  3. Working with a local NRCS conservation planner to write a conservation plan, if you and your land are deemed eligible.
  4. Submitting your plan as an application to the NRCS. If your application is awarded funding, the NRCS will offer you a contract to implement the conservation practices. The contract will state the amount of funds to be paid and the due date for each practice.

The EQIP program is competitive, and funding is not guaranteed. Applications are ranked based on location and type of practice(s). The Minnehaha Conservation District helps agricultural producers and land managers, including beekeepers, navigate the program. Contact us to learn more.


What’s left behind after a cash crop can be pretty valuable if it remains in the field.

By Janelle Atyeo
For South Dakota Soil Health Coalition

PIERRE, SD – What’s left behind after a cash crop can be pretty valuable if it remains in the field.

South Dakota farmers see a range of benefits from crop residue – corn stalks, soybean stems and wheat straw left after harvest – especially in a dry season.

It can be tempting to cut corn for silage or bale oat straw to feed to cattle when yields and feed supplies come up short. But there are major costs to removing residue.

In northeastern South Dakota near Twin Brooks, farmer Dave Kruger planted his soybeans on light, sandy ground and watched them burn up in last summer’s heat. Across the road, soybeans planted in the same sandy soils held on.

The difference was that the second field of beans grew through a thick mat of rye straw. It took another two to three weeks to see signs of heat stress, Kruger said.

Residue’s role in moisture retention is two-fold. It acts like a lid, keeping soil covered and moisture from escaping. It also helps build organic matter and carbon, which in turn increases the soil’s capacity for holding water.

Kruger is short on moisture again this year. Most of his farm has seen 10-11 inches of rain or snow since January – about 3-4 inches below normal.

But Kruger’s crops continue to pull through.

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Study shows soil health benefits include lower input costs and higher profits.

Gil Gullickson

By Dan Looker

Farmers who use practices that improve soil health also save input costs and are more profitable. 

That’s the bottom line from a study of 100 farmers in nine top corn and soybean producing states that researchers from the nonprofit Soil Health Institute (SHI) conducted, with support from Cargill, Inc.

The study, “Economics of Soil Health on 100 Farms,” sought to discover whether the agronomic benefits of better soil health had favorable economic benefits, says Wayne Honeycutt, SHI president and CEO.

Positive results resulted for nearly all farms studied. Net income per acre improved by an average of $51.60 per acre for corn and $44.80 per acre for soybeans. The study excludes any subsidies, such as conservation cost share payments for cover crops.

The farms are large commercial operations in states that grow 71% of the nation’s corn and 67% of its soybeans. Those states include all of the Corn Belt, from Nebraska east through Ohio as well as South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Tennessee. The average size of the farms was almost 2,000 acres.

The study included farms that had used soil health building practices for at least five years, Honeycutt said, but their experience was much greater. The farms had been using no-till for 19 years and cover crops for about a decade. 

The SHI has already released results from its study for each state, but Wednesday was the first time for public discussion of data from all nine. Honeycutt spoke on the first day of SHI’s two-day annual meeting. 

The 100 farms in the study use no-till on 85% of their acres, compared with 37% of all U.S. farm acres. They’ve planted cover crops on 53% of their acres, far ahead of the 5% of all farm acres in cover crops.


Benefits offset increased costs for both corn and soybeans. On corn, added costs of improving soil health tallied an average $48 per acre. 

One of the biggest increases was $12.62 an acre for seed, due to cover crops. That may seem low, Honeycutt said, but that’s because about half of the farms’ acres were protected by cover crops. 

Corn benefits added up to $99.60 per acre, with one of the biggest savings coming from a $22.36-per-acre reduction in fertilizer costs. Reduced labor and fuel costs from using no-till also increased benefits. Over time, corn yields increased by about 7.73 bushels per acre, adding more to the benefit side of the equation.

The way that researchers measured yield improvements varied by farm, he said. Some kept plots that didn’t use new soil building practices, while others compared yields to county averages.

The economic comparison was made using partial budgets. Inputs or practices that weren’t changed were left out of the calculations. For example, if the farm kept using the same herbicide, that wasn’t included.

Not all farms studied improved their income by using what SHI calls Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS). But most did; with net income increasing for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of those growing soybeans. Nearly all — 97% – reported increased crop resilience to extreme weather, such as drought. 

Honeycutt said one of the next steps for the institute’s economic studies is to develop a better understanding of the economics of making the transition to soil health management systems.

You can find more details on the study here. 

Editor’s note: The author’s son, Nate Looker, is a soil scientist working at the Soil Health Institute.

Read more about Crops News.


SOURCE: South Dakota Soil Health Coalition


The mission of the Izaak Walton League is to conserve, restore, and promote the sustainable use and enjoyment of our natural resources, including soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife.

Policy Priorities (2021-2022)

Every two years, the Izaak Walton League reexamines their public policy priorities to prepare for a new term of Congress, which always offers a clean slate for advancing their conservation mission. Here is an overview of the most vital priorities the League’s staff and dedicated grassroots volunteers will be working to advance in 2021 and 2022.

  • safeguard clean water
  • help taxpayers and farmers through better soil health
  • combat climate change
  • protect America’s wildlife
  • preserve the nation’s vital landscapes

Today, the 40,000 members of the Izaak Walton League continue to engage new generations in outdoor recreationprotect the waterways that people and wildlife rely on, and promote the sustainable use of land and its resources.

If you would like to get involved, South Dakota has several chapters you can join. If you can’t find a chapter near you, you can still support their conservation mission by becoming a national League member. They’ll connect you with opportunities to take action on the issues that matter to you. If you’re not able to help physically, you can donate financially and stay informed by subscribing to their newsletters.


The Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program has designated funds in South Dakota to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners and operators within the program’s active watershed project areas who are willing to help improve water quality by adopting certain soil health best management practices.

Through this program, technical assistance and cost sharing funds are available for

  • planting cover crops
  • planting forage and biomass in riparian areas
  • fencing, planting riparian buffers, and stock water best management practices for pasture grazing

Please see this handout for more information.

South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC) staff will also provide advice and technical assistance for other conservation practices and work with landowners to determine the availability of financial assistance for best management practices for their operations. Minnehaha Conservation District and NRCS staff are also available to help with projects.

To qualify for Section 319 financial assistance, supported work must occur in South Dakota’s active Section 319 watershed project areas. These include: South Central Watershed Project, Northeast Glacial Lakes Watershed Project, Little Minnesota River Basin, Belle Fourche Rive, Vermillion River, and the entire Big Sioux River watershed.

Participating landowners and operations must complete an application and be willing to provide documentation of work completed, including receipts for services and materials, documentation of time spent on supported work, and before and after photos. All supported practices must be approved by SDSHC prior to beginning work and verified by SDSHC staff after work completion. Additionally, participants must grant permission for SDSHC to access the work site and relevant participant files within the NRCS system.