Dan and Kris Nigg
Sisseton, South Dakota
Roberts Conservation District
Dan and Kris Nigg operate a corn, soybean and wheat farm near Sisseton. They both serve as members of the Roberts Conservation District. The Niggs practice minimal till and no-till, as well as grow cover crops. They have planted shelter belts, put in riparian buffers, pollinator plots and grass waterways.
Since Dan started farming with his dad Michael in 1982, he’s seen a drastic increase in yields. Dan and his father have always practiced crop rotation, and over the past 20 years the Niggs have reduced tillage as well. Even with high yields, reducing tillage, precision agriculture techniques and variable-rate technology have all improved their margin further.
In the process of changing tillage practices over the years, the Niggs had to deal with more residue on the field during planting. They adapted their planters with row cleaners and down-pressure systems, and have bought a vertical tillage tool to manage residue and incorporate fertilizer ahead of no-till corn. For more than five years, the Niggs have planted cover crops following spring wheat harvest to help build organic matter. They also have adapted variable rate population to boost yields on lighter soil.
The Niggs have silt-loam soil and sandy ground, so when they experience heavy rains, their fields are at risk of high erosion. Thanks to conservation practices like no-till, they’re keeping their topsoil in place. In addition to economic benefits, the Niggs are improving the biological activity in their soils, helping to break down residue after harvest more quickly. Brian has tracked the organic matter in his fields more than than 20 years, and finds that most of his fields exceed five percent, some closer to six.
The Niggs seed their cover crops with an air cart, using a mix of radishes, flax, turnips and vetch at a mix of about 10 pounds per acre. They purposely exclude species that overwinter so that the cover winterkills and doesn’t require herbicides or tillage. “I want the cover crops for nitrogen recovery and to build organic matter in the soil,” Dan said. He’s found the cover crops help break down wheat stubble as well.
The Niggs face challenges in growing cover crops behind spring wheat with a short fall season. When they first started planting cover crops after wheat harvests, they would spray the stubble to kill weeds and then plant cover crops, meaning cover planting could be delayed until after the beginning of September. “Now we plant right behind the combine to give the cover crops a few weeks more growing time,” Brian said. “This has worked much better.” The Niggs are still challenged with moisture in the fall, but Brian tells other farmers to get cover crops in the ground as soon as possible. “Better soil structure will help in the spring.”