Welcome to the Soil Sense Podcast

We believe that building healthier soils is not just a prescription, but rather a pursuit. This journey requires collaboration, curiosity, and communication among farmers, agricultural researchers, agronomists, consultants, and extension. You’re going to hear their stories and discover how and why they’re working together to make sense out of what’s happening in the soil.

– Tim Hammerich, Future of Agriculture Podcast Host

Season 1

Episodes - 1-16

Season 2

Episodes 1-15

Season 3 Episodes

Episodes 1-15

Season 4 Episodes

Episode 1 – DIRT WORKSHOP PANEL: What Happens in the Soil When We Reduce Tillage?

 

The DIRT Workshop was held virtually this past December. Because the event was held virtually we were able to gain access to some great speakers and panelists that inspired very important discussion. The result is some of the best information out there about soil health, all concentrated in one event. We have recorded some outstanding audio from that event that I think will be tremendously valuable to include in this podcast. Today’s episode focuses on tillage. You’ll hear from:

 

  • Anthony Bly, a South Dakota State University Soils Field Specialist and farmer who went full no till back in 1992 about some of the changes he’s seen both on his farm and others.

 

  • Aaron Daigh, a soil physicist with North Dakota State University about what’s physically happening to the soil when it is tilled and what changes if we stop.

 

  • Caley Gasch, a soil ecologist with North Dakota State University, who will share about what happens with soil biology when we reduce tillage.

 

“That’s the age old question that we’ve heard for many years as well, “I can’t do that here”…….I know because I’ve seen it that these practices will work with about any soil situation but it takes adherence to the soil health principles.” – Anthony Bly

 

Anthony goes on to share examples of different soil types that have found success in the soil health principles including his own. He explains his experience with making the adjustment on his own operation and the journey he has seen including “the soil is just stronger.” He shares that farmers are concerned that it may be too hard for a crop to grow but it provides the support, soil biology and water filtration that benefit the crops greatly.

 

“We have research that shows it can be done and what the constraints are when you change to a new system. We work to try to figure out how do we get past some of those restraints but there’s plenty of folks around….that are doing it right now and have been doing it for quite some time and quite successfully.” – Dr. Aaron Daigh

 

Dr. Daigh suggests that it took time for the technology to catch up with the no till practice and we are there now. He does allow that there are many variables from one operation to the next which will form the expectations that are possible on what timeline in different areas. The overall goal of increased production with decreased inputs is possible with adjustments for each individual type of soil. Ultimately preserving the aggregates and structure of the soil allows for better water and air penetration which leads to better availability for the crops. “Tilling for the purpose of drying the soil, you might get a wee bit of drying there but you’re working backwards on your drainage.”

 

“The natural tendency of a soil is to develop that beautiful structure and host so much biological activity that can translate to producing a healthier crop.” – Dr. Caley Gasch

 

After reducing tillage Dr. Gasch recommends cover crops to improve soil quality. “Plants are the foundation of the soil food web…..and so having growing plants is the next most important thing after you reduce your tillage.” As a soil ecologist Dr. Gasch focuses her efforts on the changes in soil biology with decreased tillage and use of cover crops. She suggests feeding your soils with organic material such as residue or manure. She does not feel microbial testing is necessary for each producer, rather, monitoring for symptoms of biological activity is sufficient.

 

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Anthony Bly, a South Dakota State University Soils Field Specialist and farmer
  • Meet Dr. Aaron Daigh, a soil physicist with North Dakota State University
  • Meet Dr. Caley Gasch, a soil ecologist with North Dakota State University
  • Our experts share the benefits of soil health principles including cover crops and decreased tillage
  • Explore who is eligible for these benefits and practices and the changes you can expect to see

 

Connect with Soil Sense:

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Episode 2 – DIRT WORKSHOP PANEL: Cover Crops Research and Strategy

 

We were able to capture some of the best information out there about soil health at the DIRT Workshop last December thanks to some fantastic speakers and some tremendous audience engagement.Today’s episode focuses on cover crops. You’ll hear from:

 

  • Hans Kandel, a South Dakota State University Professor and Extension Agronomist

 

  • Matt Ruark, a soil scientist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison

 

  • Dave Franzen, a professor and extension soil health specialist also at North Dakota State University

 

“There is not one cocktail or species that does best. It depends really on the wishes of the producer but there are many opportunities.” – Dr. Hans Kandel

 

Dr. Kandel prefers to think about using cover crops as a “mimicking of nature.” Multi-species growth is a natural occurrence in the prairie region so growing multiple species simultaneously is naturally supported by the ecosystem. He explains that different cover crops are better suited for different outcomes. If you are looking for something to be sustained throughout the winter then a winter hardy crop like winter rye, winter wheat or camelina may be the best fit. For added nitrogen, peas may work best. Another consideration may be susceptibility to potential disease transfer. Mixes of species have the potential of achieving multiple goals but they also add the concern that you may be watering down some specific benefits by adding more plants that will compete for the same resources. Ultimately the main priority for the producer helps inform the best cover crop and the best timing and method for seeding.

 

“What gets me the most excited about evaluating cover crops is trying to get the use of legumes in rotation because it does have that short term economic benefit of supplying some nitrogen.” – Dr. Matt Ruark

 

Dr. Ruark focused his discussion on the benefits of biomass with legumes and how to best manage their growth. “That’s the trick with legumes….for me the legumes are strictly a biomass game….The more biomass you have the more nitrogen release you have.” Of course sometimes that biomass can be overwhelming. Dr. Ruark suggests that you can either use excess biomass as a forage source, you can terminate early to reduce the amount of biomass produced or you can adjust your nitrogen fertilizer application. He does highlight that we are still at the “mercy of the weather patterns, especially in the spring” for growth of cover crops after harvest so control is never absolute.

 

“I think just being aware and knowing that you’ve got to manage the thing instead of just let it grow until you plant. You have to keep your eyes open and use some common sense when you have cover crops in the west.” – Dr. Dave Franzen

 

Dr. Franzen gives us some insight into why there may be concern for red clover adaptation to the North Dakota climate but how historically the crop did very well in that area. He also shares some different protocols he has seen be successful as well as adaptations he would recommend in hindsight of results. His overarching recommendation is not to “set it and forget it” when it comes to cover crops. He recommends being vigilant and flexible in order to capture as many benefits as possible. He also suggests that rather than test soil levels for nitrogen perhaps create a trial strip of additional nitrogen supplementation to compare and evaluate whether you have calculated your nitrogen benefit from your cover crop accurately or not.

 

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Hans Kandel, a South Dakota State University Professor and Extension Agronomist
  • Meet Dr. Matt Ruark, a soil scientist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Dave Franzen, a professor and extension soil health specialist also at North Dakota State University
  • Our experts share the benefits, options and applications of different species of cover crops

 

Connect with Soil Sense:

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Episode 3 – DIRT WORKSHOP PANEL: Farmer Experiences with Wide Row Corn

 

60” corn has been a hot topic in many soil health circles. This wider row spacing can allow for greater light penetration and improve the environment for interseeded cover crop growth. We hosted both a farmer panel and a researcher panel on 60” corn at the DIRT Workshop this past December. In this episode, farmers discuss their system, what yield differences they’ve seen, timing and harvesting considerations, grazing value, crop insurance, and more. To meet these producers and watch the panel discussions click the links below to find the NDSU soil health Youtube channel.

 

 

 

 

Also on this panel was Mike Schaefer, who actually planted a full vegetable garden between corn rows on a small plot in New Rockford, North Dakota. We don’t get into that full story today, but I encourage you to check out his video on Youtube.

 

“It isn’t that the broad pass covers or interseeding covers didn’t work. It just wasn’t as consistent for the following year as I would like to see….I have never had a consistent cover as I have right now going into winter.” – Joe Breker

 

Joe shares that in spreading out his rows, adding cover crops and applying more fertilizer he did not see a large yield reduction in the cash crop. His goal going forward is to improve weed control by adjusting his cover crop mixture without affecting the yield further. Chris Walberg’s goals in widening his rows was to add species diversity and a grazing program to his operation. This further highlights the advice from last episode, that knowing your goals with cover crops and planting will affect the program that best fits your operation. While he did confirm a decreased yield, he has yet to see how having the extra forage and decreased inputs will affect his financial bottom line. Chris is “pretty happy with the biomass” produced and looks forward to it grazing well this winter. He has also seen the added benefit of weed suppression with the additional growth of his cover crops. Both Joe and Chris had very little issue with harvesting and remarked on the harvest ease.

 

“If you can get a cash crop growing full season and still have a cover crop out there, I just think it’s a win in all different aspects with the biology and stuff in the soil.” – Tyler Zimmerman

 

Tyler has not seen a financial gain at the moment but he does see the long term benefits with better soil health and will continue to make adjustments to hopefully achieve that. All of our producers are encouraged by the immediate results and plan on making future adjustments to continue to finetune the practice to their individual operations.

 

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Joe Breker, Chris Walberg, and Tyler Zimmerman from our producer panel on wide row corn spacing from the DIRT Workshop
  • Explore the practice and procedure of wide spaced corn to allow for better light penetration to cover crops
  • Learn the added benefits and new challenges presented by this practice

 

Connect with Soil Sense:

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Episode 4 – Grazing Livestock for Soil Health

 

For many farmers on this journey to improve their soil health, incorporating livestock is something they hope to do in the future. This can and will introduce a whole new layer of complexity into the system. How many cattle are appropriate? What will they need in terms of fencing, water, etc.? What will the benefits be to the land? What should be considered in an economic arrangement with a rancher? These were some of the questions discussed on our grazing panel at the DIRT Workshop.

 

Today you’ll hear from:

 

  • Kevin Sedivec, Extension Rangeland Management Specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and Director of the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

 

  • Miranda Meehan, Extension Livestock Environmental Stewardship Specialist also at NDSU

 

 

Also on this panel was Mary Keena, Extension Livestock Environmental Management Specialist at NDSU. But you won’t hear from Mary today, as we’re going to do a full episode with her on compost and manure later in this season.

 

“Just the idea of the hoof action and the urine and the manure that creates this different micro-population that adds a new value and a new component that then benefits your soil microbic population, which then helps you break down and create more organic matter in time. So livestock to me is one of those tools that in my opinion has been a no brainer to add. It’s a quick way to add economic return on that land base.” – Dr. Kevin Sedivec

 

Dr. Sedivec goes on to highlight that long term management adjustments should be seen as a long term investment. “Don’t expect to see dollar savings the first year you do this.”  Continuing soil health practices and incorporating livestock over multiple years will provide the best benefit for producers. Admittedly, it is a complicated process to isolate the value the livestock bring to the cropping system and the cropping system brings to the livestock. Dr. Miranda Meehan is involved in research to better define and answer that problem.  Her studies focus on the “carrying capacity” of fields that incorporate the type of cattle to be added, the life-stage they are in, the length of time for grazing and the amount of cover crop residue the producer wants to maintain. She also offers how to choose the appropriate cover crop mixture that works well for your operation and helps “increase nutritional quality and maintain the nutritional plain” for the grazing livestock.

 

“You know, people ask me all the time, can I build soil health without livestock? And I say, yeah, sure, you can, but you’ll get there 10 times faster with livestock.” – Jerry Doan

 

Doan’s operation has three main goals at the moment; trying to reduce winter feed costs, increasing the soil health of his crop lands and incorporating wildlife preservation into his operation. Doan shares all the many signs he has seen on his land that indicate increased soil health including worm populations and better granulated soil.

 

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Kevin Sedivec an Extension Rangeland Management Specialist at North Dakota State University Extension, Dr. Miranda Meehan an Extension Livestock Environmental Stewardship Specialist also at NDSU and Jerry Doan a rancher from McKenzie, ND
  • Learn about the protocols and practices involved in incorporating livestock into a cover crop operation
  • Explore the practices producer Jerry Doan has found to be successful with his livestock and cover crop operation

 

 

Connect with Soil Sense:

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!