Even if you don’t have the same kind of operation the Neuharth’s have, I think you’ll enjoy their story. Their farm is an example of understanding the five soil health principles and then implementing management practices to meet every principle. Best of all, they’re including the next generation in the process and young Johnathan can even recite all five principles. I also think you’ll appreciate that they start with nature as their model.
What we did was look at the native prairie as a model and then look at how close we could come to doing what the native prairie did. Because that’s been successful and would be successful if we left. So how do you mimic that? And that’s where the diversity thing comes in. And then the livestock thing. There used to be animals here, and big ones and small ones. So that’s all part of that system.
As crop farmers the process has been a bit more challenging. As grazier’s you might think about how you might work with your cropping neighbors to be the livestock portion of their soil health journey.
Enjoy this 4:25 video or read on for the transcript.
David Neuharth, Fort Pierre, SD: When I came down here I was working for the people who owned this place and everything in this country and in Stanley county around in the area was pretty much a 50-50 deal: half summer fallow, which was, like Duane would say, it was the desert out there that we were maintaining. And the other half was winter wheat.
Jason Miller, USDA-NRCS Conservation Agronomist: With Dave, starting the soil transition phase, Levi is picking it up and increasing the value of what Dave actually started. Its’ kid of unique. You don’t see that in a lot of operations. There are a few of them around. But Levi and Dave have done a good job.
Crystal Neuharth, Fort Pierre, SD: Our journey started when we were going to different meeting and seeing other producers and what they’re doing to help improve their soil.
Levi Neuharth, Fort Pierre, SD: We slowly started getting diverse in our rotations. After we got in the rotations we started using cover crops both full season and after wheat harvest.
David Neuharth: We got started in the no-till and it’s been real rewarding to see what’s gone on with the soil here and what’s gone on with our operation. Everything’s pretty much continuous crop and we’re learning to manage our water and manage our soil.
Ruth Beck, South Dakota State University Extension Agronomy Field Specialist: This area we don’t really have the moisture to do corn and beans and corn and beans. Those are long season crops. We’ve got to have some wheat in there and peas, which are a little shorter season and tend to be able to produce a crop with less moisture usage. But with no-till it’s really important to use that crop rotation because we’re not getting rid of that residue so we’ve got to move to other crops to help us control weeds and diseases and some of the other pests that come along with crop.
Crystal Neuharth: We like diversity in our plants. We like the warm/cool season grasses and broad leaves. And we also like diversity in our animals.
Levi Neuharth: We bought chickens and then from there my youngest son had a milk allergy so we got dairy goats and that got us into the dairy goats. And my wife likes rodeo and so we got horses. And then we had some cows for a little while of our own. It got really really dry one year and we had to sell them off. And since they we have just rented out our pasture an done custom grazing of our pastures.
April Boltjes, USDA-NRCS Soil Conservationist: Levi and Crystal have done a great job of integrating cattle in their planting full season cover crops and then after the winter wheat they’ll plant the cover crops and they can graze them. It’s just amazing benefits that they get form the use of livestock as well.
Dwayne Beck, Manager Dakota Lakes Research Farm: What we did was look at the native prairie as a model and then look at how close we could come to doing what the native prairie did. Because that’s been successful and would be successful if we left. So how do you mimic that? And that’s where the diversity thing comes in. And then the livestock thing. There used to be animals here, and big ones and small ones. So that’s all part of that system.
Johnathan Neuharth (Levi and Crystal’s young son): Five principles of soil health are:
Minimal soil disturbance
Keep diversity in plants and animals
Keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible, and
Keeping the soil covered.
Levi Neuharth: I think probably my Dad’s motivation to start all this was to make better of what he had, to make it work for you without having to go out and be a great big farm, to grow quality crops to be able to market, to have the land here for our future generations. And that’s kind of one of my big goals, is to have it here not only for my children but my children’s children.
Crystal Neuharth: I’m really excited that our kids are excited about being part of the farm and learning the soil health parts. I think getting our youth involved at a young age is very important for the future of agriculture.