“I’m always curious about the stories behind soil health and how the farmers choose to use these practices. And so I was wondering if someone could help answer a question on how they got started in soil health, the practices they may have tried over the years, things that worked and didn’t work, and what they’re going to try in the future to keep these practices going on their farm? ” - Dr. Abbey Wick, NDSU Extension Soil Health Specialist
Kerry Swindler farms near Mott, North Dakota. He started no-tilling in the early 80s and became involved in the ManDak Zero-Till Association, which was a group of pioneering farmers interested in creating healthier soils in Manitoba and North Dakota.
“When we started no-tilling in the early 80’s. That was part of the challenge for us is getting some of the organic matter back into the soil so that it would just stay where it belongs. It wouldn’t blow so easy, it wouldn’t wash when we had a heavy rain.” - Kerry Swindler
Kerry describes the major shifts in soil management protocols that began with hopes of preventing further soil erosion. During a sunflower harvest, Kerry noticed how difficult it was to move the combine across the field due to a loss of top soil. That started them “down a path” of transitioning to no-till. Kerry reports “it didn’t take long to start seeing some of the benefits.”
“The first thing, there was a lot less wind erosion. Right out of the gate… It didn’t take too many years and we started seeing a bump up in our organic matter of our soils….It was exciting to see.” - Kerry Swindler
After 40 years of no-till practices he is noticing a plateau of added benefits but he is not done. He wants to continue to improve his fields and is now exploring cover crops. “I think there’s more to go and that's where I am.”
“I’m happy with where we are….. I hesitate to even think what it would look like if we hadn’t done this. It would be a disaster.” - Kerry Swindler
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