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Soil Sense

89 EpisodesProduced by NDSU ExtensionWebsite

Welcome to the Soil Sense Podcast, where 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… read more


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.
  • Dr. 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.
  • Dr. 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.

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

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