Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

News of the Day — 9/21/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 9/17/2021


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

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News of the Day — 9/14/2021

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.”


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News of the Day — 9/10/2021


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

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News of the Day — 9/7/2021


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.


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News of the Day — 9/3/2021


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 or 573-681-5545.

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

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News of the Day — 8/31/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 8/27/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 8/25/2021


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.

Download a printer-friendly version of this article.

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News of the Day — 8/20/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 8/18/2021


SOURCE: South Dakota Soil Health Coalition

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News of the Day — 8/6/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 8/4/2021


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.

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News of the Day — 7/30/2021


The mission of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) is to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

TRCP works to unite and amplify partner voices to advance America’s legacy of conservation, habitat, and access. In order to accomplish their goal, they collaborate with non-profits, businesses, donors, lawmakers, and sportsmen and sportswomen. Their statement of values guides all those who work with them toward their goal.

In 1912, Roosevelt said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.” While in the political arena, he succeeded in making conservation a top-tier national issue. Roosevelt had the foresight to address these issues still so significant to sportsmen today, understanding that if we want to safeguard critical habitat, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations, we must plan carefully today.

Read the blog or learn more about how you can help.

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News of the Day — 7/27/2021


Here’s a reminder to check out our upcoming webinar series as we discuss ways to be more sustainable and conservation minded in your own backyard. You can sign up by emailing our Urban Conservation Education Coordinator, Alina Krone-Hedman, or register using the following link:

We’re looking forward to seeing you then!

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News of the Day — 7/23/2021


Last week, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) updated its Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, providing farmers and the conservation community with a means of evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of soil health conservation practices with 2020 price and crop data.

The previous version of the tool used 2019 information. This updated pricing allows farmers to obtain a more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of their investments in soil health.

The R-SHEC Tool is part of a comprehensive set of resources available online and free of charge from AFT on the Soil Health Case Study Methods and Tool Kit webpage.

Learn more in AFT’s press release.

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News of the Day — 7/20/2021


The Center for Rural Affairs has released a series of resource guides that aims to help farmers and ranchers new to implementing conservation practices like cover crops. The resources provide details on two of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s flagship working lands conservation programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). 

Written in both English and Spanish, these resources cover topics such as:

  • What to Know About Working with your USDA Service Center
  • What to know about Eligibility and Enrollment for CSP
  • What to Know About EQIP Application Rankings and Advance Payment Option

For many producers, conservation is an important tool in keeping their farm or ranch resilient for years to come. Oftentimes, producers receive support for implementing conservation practices through programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And that’s where the Center for Rural Affairs says it is hoping to help farmers.

Both CSP and EQIP offer financial and technical assistance to producers who want to improve their natural resources, including soil, water, and wildlife habitat, without taking land out of production.

“This new resource addresses some of the common questions we’ve received from years of connecting with farmers and ranchers, such as ‘Can I participate in federal cost-share programs if I rent the land I farm?’ to ‘How do payments and taxes work for these programs?’” said Kalee Olson, a policy associate at the center.

“One of the most important things a farmer or rancher can do is develop a good relationship with their local NRCS and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices,” Olson said. “We hope farmers and ranchers will use these resources as a template for starting that partnership.”

The resource guides can be downloaded here.


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News of the Day — 7/16/2021


Check out our upcoming webinar series discussing ways to be more sustainable and conservation minded in your own backyard. You can sign up by contacting our Urban Conservation Education Coordinator, Alina Krone-Hedman, at or use this registration link:

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News of the Day — 7/14/2021


HURON, S.D., July 9, 2021 – South Dakota agricultural operations have been significantly impacted by the ongoing, severe drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has technical and financial assistance available to help farmers and livestock producers recover. As agricultural producers move into recovery mode and assess damages, they should contact their local USDA Service Center to report losses and learn more about program options available to assist in their recovery from crop, land, infrastructure, and livestock losses and damages.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).

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News of the Day — 7/13/2021

South Dakota Ag Connection – 07/07/2021

While the rain that fell across South Dakota in varying amounts over the past weekend was welcome, it didn’t change grazing recommendations from the USDA in a drought.

“We’re suggesting ranchers think long-term in their grazing operations, and continue to rotate pastures to leave enough growth for their pastures to recover,” says the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Rangeland Management Specialist Emily Helms.

June 24’s Drought Monitor Map showed nearly the entire state was abnormally dry with most of the state in a moderate or severe drought and about a dozen counties with severe drought. The latest South Dakota NRCS forage production map shows only 70% to 85% of normal production for much of the state.

Tanse Herrmann, South Dakota NRCS State Grazing Lands Soil Health Specialist, says ranchers are running out of grass in some situations, and face some tough decisions.

“There are still options, but grazing pastures short is a short-sighted option,” Herrmann says. “You want to preserve the long-term sustainability and resilience of rangeland resources. Taking those pastures too short in a drought has detrimental effects for more than just next year–a lot of times we see effects two, three and four years later.”

Beau Bendigo, his wife Susanne, and his father Larry, listened to that kind of advice years ago. The resilience they’ve built into land Larry and his wife have leased from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Ziebach County for more than 50 years is paying off now.

“It was dry in 2002, and we knew we had to do something different,” Bendigo says. “We struggled again in 2006, and began making improvements. We knew there would be more drought.”

“The big changes we made were splitting two big pastures into eight smaller pastures with cross fencing, and adding water tanks to every pasture so they could be rotated and rested,” says Larry.

“We get everything grazed this way,” Beau says. “It’s a night and day difference on even use of the grass.”

Beau says the key to resilience is figuring out what works best on your own land. “Our land isn’t suited to moving cattle every few days. But I figured if we could move cattle every 21 days, we could take half and leave half the forage. So we put the practices in place to do that.”

“You have to be prepared,” Beau adds. “We’re short on moisture, but when you have old grass left, you get more water infiltration and more growth with a little moisture. We’ve got enough grass in our pastures and confidence in our system. It’s working.”

“We never overgrazed, even 20 years ago, and we don’t overgraze now,” Larry adds. “But now Beau can run more cattle on the same land.” Beau says the carrying capacity has increased by 50 head, and there’s enough grass for them even in this drought.

Helms and Herrmann say it’s not too late to use drought management alternatives. They recommend ranchers who are running out of grass talk with an NRCS conservationist and choose a strategy that best fits their operation. Long term, they say, ranchers can build resilience to drought by rotating and then resting pastures, giving plants time to recover and building healthier soils.

The NRCS offers an online Drought Tool and other aids for drought planning, and direct assistance to producers across South Dakota. These include NRCS South Dakota Drought Resources and the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition — Mentor Network.

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