March 15, 2021

What Do Plant Roots Do for Soil Health?

“Maximizing Living Roots” is the third principle of soil health and it’s focused on feeding the soil. When I first saw this phrase, I confess–it struck me as a bit odd:  since living roots can’t exist without whole living plants, why not just say “maximize living plants?” After a while it dawned on me—if we […]

February 1, 2021

Is Compost Tea a Good Way to Add Nutrients and Microbes to Soil?

Last week’s article on the results of on-farm research about the value of compost tea raised some questions from readers. To answer them, I’ve brought in Robert Pavlis. Robert has a background in chemistry and biochemistry, is a Master Gardener, and author of the book, Soil Science for Gardeners, an easy-to-read, practical guide to the […]

January 25, 2021

Synthetic Fertilizer – Where it Comes From and What it Does and Doesn’t Do

This week John Marble writes about the economics of adding fertilizer to pastures, so we thought it was a good time to take a closer look at nitrogen and fertilizer. This piece was inspired by some info John provided about nitrogen and it’s potential impacts. A Little Background In his 1898 inaugural address as president […]

December 14, 2020

Interpreting Your Soils Test Report

Agricultural soil testing can be used for many purposes, but the primary use is to determine whether or not lime and/or fertilizer is needed, and, if so, how much. The first step in soil testing is to collect the sample, but, for this article, let’s assume you have collected your soil sample, sent it to […]

December 7, 2020

Our Soil-Moisture Reservoir

Here’s another trip into our past to learn from those whose shoulders we stand on.* We talk a lot about soil moisture and the importance of managing pastures so that they can absorb and hold precipitation whenever it comes. With this article from the October 1963 issue of “Soil Conservation,” Cecil Wadleigh, takes us deeper, […]

November 30, 2020

Microbes Can Unlock Soil Phosphorus to Enhance Plant Growth

Phosphorus is a critical plant nutrient. It stimulates root growth, is part of photosynthesis and transferring nutrients through the plant, and without, maturity is delayed and fruits and seeds are few and poorly formed. The good news is that there is lots of phosphorous in the soil, with concentrations ranging from 200 to 6,000 pounds […]

November 23, 2020

Hungry Plants Order Up Iron From Soil Microbes

Continuing with our Thanksgiving theme, here’s how plants harvest some nutrition for their own dinner. Thanks to the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research for their work on this article.   In nature, healthy plants are awash with bacteria and other microbes, mostly deriving from the soil they grow in. This community of microbes, […]

November 9, 2020

What are your grasses doing? What’s the result of your management?

Today we’re taking a field trip to visit the Gilbert family on their ranch in Buffalo, South Dakota. The Gilbert family has been ranching here on the shortgrass prairie since 1894, starting with sheep and then converting to Angus cattle. They graze rotationally, constantly tweaking and adjusting their management and monitoring to make sure the […]

October 12, 2020

Farmer Manages Variety and Builds Resilience Through Soil Health

Thanks to the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition for this article! South Dakota is known for its variety, and Don Nickelson’s operation in Frederick is no exception. With the help of his wife, Trista, and sons Aiden, Gavin, and Ian, Nickelson raises cattle and grows corn, soybeans, oats, triticale, alfalfa and cover crops. His farm […]

September 21, 2020

Twice as Many Cows, Twice as Easy

This piece comes to us from Clarence Kelly,* work unit conservationist for the Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service). It was first published in September of 1962 in the Soil Conservation magazine. This rancher faced a lot of the same challenges many of us face today. His solution was to […]

August 31, 2020

Graziers and Crop Farmers Benefit From Working Together – Part 1

If you’re looking over at the remains in your neighbor’s crop residue or cover crops and are seeing potential forage, you’ll like this two-part series. It will give you some ideas and tips for creating a win-win opportunity. You feed your livestock while improving soil health and productivity for your neighbor! Thanks for this series […]

July 20, 2020

Take Your Grazing Up a Level By Adding Trees to Your Pastures

As someone who spends a lot of time talking with farmers about planting trees, there’s a certain phrase I’ve heard more than I can count. “Why in the world would someone do that? My granddad spent years clearing the woods so we can farm.” If you’re reading a grazing publication, I’ll assume you’re a bit […]

July 6, 2020

Manuresheds – Moving Manure Back to Fields and Pastures

We’ve all heard the term “watersheds.” We use it to describe a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers. It helps us think about all the resources in one place and how they are distributed. Now, scientists are using that same concept to look at how we can reconnect livestock […]

June 29, 2020

Take a Deeper Look at Soil Health

Dr. Ray Weil has spent his whole life looking at and learning about soils and how they work to keep us all fed. In fact, he literally wrote the book on soils. He has a message for farmers and ranchers concerned about how their soils affect forage growth and profitability: Think deeper. Think about more […]

June 22, 2020

Updates on Projects to Manage Weeds and Turn a Dying Timber Stand Into Pasture

  I am often reminded of my old professor Dr. Breakey, especially lately as I review the results of two recent “field experiments.” Project 1: What in Tar(weed)Nation? Managing a New Weed Last spring I wrote about a massive invasion of Tarweed that had dominated a large chunk of the ranch. Those nasty plants interfered […]

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