Flasher, North Dakota
Jim is a fifth generation producer on his family’s centennial farm first settled in 1904. He took over the family farm in 1992, and a decade later, assumed the role of board supervisor for the Morton County Soil Conservation District. According to Jim, soil health practices have improved the structure of his soils, which has in turn saved him time at planting and money at the gas pump.
Soil Health Practices
Jim switched from conventional tillage to 100% no-till ten years ago after attending an adult range camp sponsored by the Morton County Soil Conservation District and NRCS – and he’s very satisfied with the results. On his farm, Jim has seen increases in yield, a decreased need for commercial fertilizers, and an overall improvement in his soils. “The soil organic matter has improved from 2% ten years ago, to the current 4.7%,” Jim told NACD. That increase in organic matter took longer to realize than some of the other known benefits of using soil health practices, like the dramatic reduction in fuel costs – which Jim noticed right away.
Jim uses a variety of cover crops to improve soil health, extend the grazing season (bale grazing, windrow grazing, and standing corn grazing), improve cattle fertility, and provide winter grazing for cattle. “The benefit of having livestock in your system is it will put nutrients onto the land naturally,” Jim added. He also uses a multi-species crop rotation to improve soil health, while providing a variety of plants for his cattle to graze. With these improvements, the soil retains more moisture and there is less nutrient run-off into nearby water bodies.
To improve water quality, Jim put up fences to keep his livestock from wandering into the creek and ponds on his property. To keep fresh water flowing for his cattle to drink, he installed a solar- and wind-powered water pump to move fresh water from a pond to a designated watering system. Buffer zones were seeded along the creek to enhance wildlife habitat, and help prevent soil erosion and nitrogen leaching. Jim plans to plant trees within the buffers so they may support even more diverse species of wildlife.
“When first starting out with no-till the challenge is controlling the weeds,” Jim said. “Another challenge is watching how the cover crops may affect your crop insurance. It also can be hard to keep seed cost down, however, utilizing cover crops can reduce or eliminate the need for commercial fertilizer, which can help to offset those higher seed costs.”