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Soil Sense

90 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

27:30

A Soil Health Journey from Crops to Cattle

“I hope that we can just do so much more with an acre of land than just grow a crop on it.” -Mike Schaefer

Mike Schaefer farms wheat, barley, corn and soybeans in New Rockford, North Dakota. His farm has been using soil friendly protocols for years and is now adding intermittent livestock grazing to his farm ground. Mike didn’t set out to follow the soil health movement. 10 years ago he had initially reduced his tillage out of a “shortage of manpower.” In 2016 a severe episode of wind erosion brought soil health and tillage efforts to the forefront. This “eye-opener” cemented his commitment to reducing tillage on his fields to hopefully prevent that from happening in the future. But a reduction in wind erosion has not been the only benefit to these new practices.

“What I didn’t realize is how the water infiltration was actually really bad on our farm prior to no-till and just in three short years, that’s changed dramatically….we’ve really opened up the soil profile. We’ve got aggregate, we’ve got worms. Everything is coming alive and it’s faster than I thought it would.” - Mike Shaefer

Two years ago, factors outside of Mike’s control once again presented Mike with an opportunity to try another technique on his farm, adding grazing livestock. His neighbor happened to be “short on pasture that year” and he allowed him to graze them on corn stocks that had been coverplanted.

”That seems to be the big X factor in soil health that everybody talks about is if you can get livestock out there, that is a huge benefit.” -Mike Schaefer

The first year they had 120 steers on 120 acres. Mike plans on putting 150 head on the same 120 acres next year. He does admit that in the last 30 days “something out there changed” resulting in a reduced weight gain of the cattle. His presumption is that the “quality of what they were eating had dropped.” Next year they plan on top dressing the paddocks as the livestock are rotated around and supplementing their feed as needed. Mike is openly in a learning process to find the most effective way to run livestock on his fields and he is excited about next year's potential. This new technique is an attempt to “really change the biology of the soil” so as a bonus it also provides and supports another product, beef.

“We see a lot of opportunity to make it even more profitable once the system gets tweaked a bit. I think it could be as good or better than growing a crop on it as far as cash flow and then you get all the benefits of it underground.” - Mike Schaefer

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Mike Schaefer
  • Learn about Mike’s introduction into soil health practices  and how he has gradually made changes on his operation
  • Explore the many benefits Mike has realized by increasing his no-till efforts and by introducing intermittent grazing livestock to his fields.

Connect with Soil Sense:

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

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