By David Karki, Anthony Bly, Jashanjeet Dhaliwal and Sandeep Kumar, South Dakota State Univ. Extension

No-till has been in the rise in recent years in South Dakota. In 2019, half of cultivated crop acres in the state were under no-till systems, the NRCS says, with more than 900,000 acres planted to cover crops that same year. 

Many producers and researchers have found that cropping system practices that greatly reduce tillage and/or no-till, include crop rotations (more than two crops), incorporate cover crops, and use livestock grazing can ban be effective tools for improving soil health and enhancing overall agro ecosystem benefits.

Among others, healthy soils have many beneficial attributes such as higher soil organic matter , improved soil water infiltration, greater soil porosity, and water holding capacity that will build and sustain resilient farming systems. 

Managing water is one the most important — if not the most important — aspect of modern agriculture, especially in environments similar to South Dakota that are historically known for limited annual precipitation.

A study was conducted to compare short and long-term animal grazing on soil health and water properties at four locations in South Dakota. In summary, the study found: 

• Livestock grazing did not harm soil properties when used in combination with other soil health practices such as diverse rotations, cover crops and no-till.

• At all long-term sites, diverse crop rotations, cover crops and livestock grazing showed highly improved SOM, water infiltration rate, and soil porosity.

• Measured differences between management practices were not obviously distinguishable for the short-term soil health practice and grazing site at the Southeast Research Farm.

• These findings suggest that improving overall soil health will require adoption of diversifying crop rotations, incorporating cover crops, and livestock integration in the system more than 3 years.

To read more about this study, click here.