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South Dakota coalition to tackle soil health in state

SELBY, S.D -- A coalition has formed in South Dakota to try to improve soil health and thus the productivity of the land.

Chairman Doug Sieck said the goal is to connect farmers and ranchers across the state so they can learn more about ways to improve organic matter to also keep and “regenerate” the soil for years to come.

The Selby rancher, who farms near the Missouri River in far north-central South Dakota, has lofty goals for the group including getting at least 1,500 to 2,000 members.

“I’d like every producer in the state  to join,” he said.

He said planting cover crops and integrating livestock on the land to stimulate microbes and bacteria to a higher level has been around for a long time.

In fact, Sieck first got interested in trying to improve his land after going to a field day with producer Gabe Brown about five miles east of Bismarck, N.D., more than 10 years ago.

The interest in recent years, however, seems to be growing, he said.

“It’s kind of the buzz now,” Sieck said.

By planting turnips and radishes after crops are harvested, or adding oats and rye into a rotation or as a cover crop, can have great benefits.

However, Sieck said producers need to find out more what’s working in their areas to improve the soil and thus use less fertilizer and save more of sometimes precious rainwater to boost crop production.

Goals of the group are to hold field days in all parts of the state, and even across into other states, to share what’s working and also to produce video clips that can be shared to help farmers learn about the benefits.

“We want to connect people to information, “ he said. “And we want to help producers look at another way of managing resources.

“We need to look at the big picture and the long term,” he said.

Sieck said the land in many areas of the United States has only been farmed for about 100 years, unlike parts of Europe where it’s been 1,000 or more years.

While forefathers in this part of the country had organic matter in the soil of probably 6 to 7 percent, he said, it’s dropped to 1.5 percent to 2 percent.

Those using cover crops, no-till and other methods have turned it around and are back to 3 percent.

If producers want to keep the soil healthy for years -- and for their sons and daughters - he said attention needs to be paid to that soil.

The coalition’s mission statement simply reads: “To promote healthy soil.”

“Soil is more than just a medium for growing crops and grass. It is composed of relationships between billions of living organisms. It’s amazing how microorganisms respond to feeding and management just as a herd of cattle, or a grain crop responds to feeding and management,” Sieck said.

The formation of the group has the strong support of Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich.

“It speaks well for the South Dakotans when we see the cooperative spirit of people and entities spread across the state coming together so quickly for this important cause,” said Zimprich. He said existing state groups are helping get the organization off the ground.

“We’re fortunate in South Dakota to have energetic and experienced professionals – on the farm or ranch, in organizations, and in state and local government–all putting energy of their own expertise toward bettering the health of our soil, the foundation of our $25.6 billion agricultural industry,”  Zimprich said.

Among the organizations helping the new farmer/rancher-led, grassroots coalition include the SD Grasslands Coalition, the NRCS, South Dakota State University, SDSU Extension, the state Department of Agriculture, SD No-Till Association and the SD Cattlemen’s Association.

As the first meetings progressed, seven South Dakota farmers and ranchers volunteered to serve on the first board, including Al Miron, Minnehaha County.; Bryan Jorgensen, Tripp County; Dennis Hoyle, Edmunds County.; Dan Forgey, Potter County; Levi Neuharth, Stanley County; Terry Ness, Hughes County and Sieck.

The next meeting is Aug. 20 in Mitchell. The organization is open to urban neighbors, too, said Sieck.

The coalition can be reached via email at or visit their web site: to contact the board members or find membership information. The coalition has also started a presence on social media with the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition page on Facebook and on Twitter,@SDSHCoalition.