With fall harvest primarily done now for weeks, farmers are cleaning up their machinery, stowing it away for the winter, and getting back to the business of family and other work. But it’s this time of year that local farmer Jerry Houselog is actually the busiest, preparing for next spring by getting in as much custom strip-till work as possible. And not just on his own fields.
Houselog, who farms with his wife, Krist, just west of the Minnesota border off Highway 34, has been strip-tilling his fields for years, following in the footsteps of other farm soil conservationists in the region. Once his own corn and soybean fields are done, he moves throughout the county, increasingly doing the same custom work for others. The practice not only improves the quality of one’s soil by holding onto valuable nutrients, such as Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K), it also improves yield and drastically reduces erosion from area fields. It helps stop erosion from the wind and rain and prevents much of the snirt, or snoil — the black snow you often see in the ditch, throughout the winter.
Snirt, according to officials with South Dakota State University Extension, is a clear example of where valuable topsoil is lost.
“God’s not making more soil, not in our lifetime. I’d like to save what we have,” Houselog said. “We’ve got so many guys who were taught that when it warms in the spring that’s the best time (to till).”
On its website, researchers with SDSU Extension state that, “As years have passed, research and experience have shown us that tillage actually reduces water infiltration by destroying natural pores and root channels that transport water. Tillage also destroys the natural soil ecosystem, and burns up soil carbon (organic matter) more quickly. In a dry year, keeping as much soil moisture as possible is very important. In fact, soil organic matter can hold up to 20 times its weight in water (Reicosky, 2005). Tillage reduces soil organic matter by exposing it to air, which allows it to be consumed by opportunistic bacteria and lost as carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. The very reasons many were originally taught to till the ground have now been proven to be just the opposite.”