Hitting Pay Dirt by Boosting Soil Biology

South Dakota growers implement regenerative principles on every acre to improve soil health, reduce inputs and gain control of livestock feeding options.

Pictured Above: INTERSEEDED COVERS. Barry Little of Castlewood, S.D., surveys the multi-species cover crop interseeded between corn rows. The cover crops extend grazing opportunities for the Littles’ livestock herd.

In the pursuit of higher soil organic matter levels in their soils, Barry and Eli Little, a father-and-son team farming in Castlewood, S.D., are aggressively adopting regenerative practices.

Their aim is to create a highly functioning soil biology with the ability to support high yields on minimal inputs. 

“Soil health has five principles, and I think we need all of them in order to see the results that we’re getting,” says Eli. “We have to have livestock on the land. We have to disturb the soil as little as possible, have armor on the soil, we need diversity and to have a living root in the ground for as long as possible. We’re aiming to practice these principles on every acre of our farm.”

While all the principles are important, the Littles say animal integration is absolutely critical to their success. 

“Here in South Dakota, we have a really strong soil health coalition and they talk about the five tenets of soil health,” says Barry. “But if you look at USDA literature, they forget about the livestock integration, which to me is really important to moving things along as quickly as possible.”

Rotational Grazing

Known as Blioux River Ranch, in a nod to their location on the Sioux River, the operation has been in the Little family since 1948. Barry came…

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Julia gerlach web

Julia Gerlach

Julia Gerlach is the former Executive Editor of No-Till Farmer. She has a lengthy background in publishing and a longtime interest in gardening and mycology. She graduated with a B.A. in music and philosophy from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis.

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