Okaton, South Dakota
Jones Conservation District
Henry Roghair is a third-generation farmer, operating 3,500 acres of spring and winter wheat, safflower, flax, corn, milo and millet with his wife Elaine. They farm 2,000 of those acres and practice no-till and crop rotation techniques.
The Roghair family first came to South Dakota in the mid-1920s from Northwest Iowa. Henry’s father, Nicholas, instilled in him a love for farming – Henry rented and planted his first field while he was still in high school. After more than 40 years of farming, Roghair says he still loves farming.“I don’t always love the other things that come with it, but I love to farm.”
Roghair began using conservation practices, including no-till and crop rotations, since the mid-1990s. “Since starting to no-till, all I’ve done is add granaries,” he says. “In this part of the world, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no other way to go than no-till. The soil is a lot easier to manage, and this is notoriously miserable soil.” Since implementing these practices, Roghair has been involved in crop management at various levels, including serving as a state director of the South Dakota Crop Improvement Association, a member of the South Dakota Pulse Council, the Jones County Crop Improvement Association and South Dakota Wheat, Inc. In 2007, he was named Premier Seed Grower by the South Dakota Crop Improvement Association.
When he began using conservation practices, he was into the “wheat/summer fallow routine,” like most area farmers. He consulted local NRCS staff, borrowed a no-till drill from a neighbor, and planted 20 acres of milo. Roghair saw a yield increase immediately due to the continuous crop schedule allowed in no-till, but he also noticed improved yields from better soil health very quickly.
Today, it’s obvious what no-till is doing for his farm’s soil, he says. When a prairie fire threatened one of his fields in September 2012, Roghair disked two strips between the fire and the majority of the no-till field. The fire was eventually stopped before it got to his land, but the fire prevention move demonstrated the striking benefits of no-till, he says. When it came time for harvest, the yield from the fire strip area was one-third less than that of the acres in the no-till portion of the field.
Most farmers in the Okaton area use at least some no-till, but not everyone is convinced. Roghair says he understands their initial hesitation, as “It takes more management than the tillage system, and a big disk will cover up a lot of mistakes.” But the proof is in the yields, something Roghair says he and other farmers see firsthand. “It’s about the conservation, but the economics work,” he says.