Dakota Lakes Research Farm Visit

By Jeremy Bunch on August 22, 2013

On July 22-24, I had the opportunity to visit Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, SD, and visit with Dr. Dwayne Beck. Learning the ins-and-outs of no-till farming, crop rotations, residue management, etc., from someone who has been researching these farming practices for decades was like taking a drink from the fire hose. It was a lot to soak in, and several weeks later I'm still sopping wet. Three days were spent looking at fields and driving in the pickup truck with Dr. Beck, so I had all the opportunity in the world to ask him as many questions as I would have liked. The problem was that I was learning so fast that I didn't know what questions to ask. Now that I've had time to reflect and reconsider what I saw and heard back in Pierre, I am able to formulate those questions, and I look forward to going back, and to a Round 2 of learning. Dr. Beck believes that no-till farming is a foundational tool to sustainable farming, but no-till by itself is not the solution to any of our agricultural challenges. No-till without a diversity of crop rotations has very little to no value. In fact, it may be more destructive than tillage farming that does include crop diversity. The key is that no-till and crop rotation diversity must go hand in hand. Crop diversity with no-till presents its own challenges, and that is what Dr. Beck has given his life to researching. In order to maximize soil health, one needs to strategically plan crop rotations that will take advantage of available moisture, manage residue, and control pest, weed, and disease pressure - among other factors. That kind of strategic planning changes from region to region, so the principles of sustainable farming need to be translated from one place to another. Shepherd's Grain growers are committed to sustainable farming, and I look forward to continuing that conversation with them, adding to that conversation the insights I picked up in South Dakota.