More farmers across South Dakota are using conservation in their cropland management systems than a decade ago, announces officials with the USDA NRCS.

Results of the 2015 South Dakota Cropping Systems Inventory were released Dec. 1, 2015. Jeff Zimprich, head of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for South Dakota, presented the 2015 results at the joint annual conventions of the Ag Horizons and SD Association of Conservation Districts.

The new NRCS South Dakota report is not available from other sources and is a statistical “snapshot in time” for the types of cropping systems farmers are using. Announced were changes from 2013 and long-term trends for county-level data and cropping systems in use statewide. Nearly one-third of South Dakota counties have seen significant changes and 30-year trends for use of no-till systems vs. conventional tillage, showing progress for South Dakota agriculture. 

“The type of cropping systems make a difference in production, water quality, and how soil holds water — infiltrating it vs. allowing it to runoff. These benefits are also important for South Dakota’s agriculture industry,” Zimprich says. “Consumers know that healthy natural resources are important and consumers also want to know that the food they eat is grown sustainably. These trends in conservation practices lean toward more sustainable farming and this is good news for South Dakotans.”

The results of the 2015 Cropping Systems Inventory shows an upward trend in no-till farming systems in South Dakota acres since the 2013 inventory, and up significantly from 2004. The 2015 inventory found use of no-till cropping systems to be predominant on 46% of South Dakota cropland (6.47 million acres). A cropping system that leaves more than 30% residue cover on the soil surface after planting (including no-till) was used on more than 65% of the state’s cropland. For the first time, the overall percentage of acres under conventional tillage was down slightly, however, the location of those acres shifted.

Cropping systems impact the health and productivity of soil — the foundation of South Dakota’s agriculture industry. 

“This is why NRCS is focusing on helping farmers and ranchers improve the health of their resources,” Zimprich says. “Soil health matters. Healthy soil is the key to the sustainability of our resources, the key to the productivity, profitability and resiliency of our farms and ranches; and it’s the key to reducing or eliminating any off-site water quality impacts of agricultural production.”

Farmers with advanced cropping systems include conservation practices such as no-till, diversified cropping rotations and cover crops. The number of counties with more than 75% of their cropland acres under a no-till system increased from 4 counties in 2004, to 14 counties in 2013, to 17 counties in 2015. While the overall acres under no-till increased, in eastern South Dakota, 8 counties decreased their no-till cropland acres.

“Using cropping systems that don’t disturb the soil, that keep the soil covered, that keep live roots growing year-round, and that use diverse cover crop mixes and crop rotations, are the tools that enable our farmers to improve soil health,” Zimprich says. “Farming leaders across South Dakota like Joel Erickson, who farms in Marshall County, Steve Reimer who farms near Chamberlain, Jorgensen Farms in Tripp County, and Al Miron in Minnehaha County are a few of many who are demonstrating long-term success and profitability with practices that focus on healthy soil.” 

To learn more, contact the NRCS staff found in your local USDA Service Center. A summary of the inventory is online at, under “newsroom.”