Soil Health: Principle 4 of 5 – Maximize Plant Diversity:
Our prairie soils were built under a widely diverse plant community. This plant community consisted of grasses, sedges, nitrogen fixing legumes, wildflowers, forbs, and more, all with different root types and depths. The prairie ecosystem didn’t just provide for the bison, deer and pronghorn, it also provided for the soil fungi, bacteria, and worms. So, it seems to make sense that if we want to build healthy soils, we need to feed the soil a healthy, diverse diet.
How do we maximize plant diversity?
If you currently graze perennial pasture that has never been sod-busted, you may have many of the original prairie plants already. To keep or increase the diversity of your plant community, proper grazing management is key. Change season of use yearly, stock properly, rotate regularly.
On the crop production side, try to imitate the native plant community, which consisted of warm and cool season grasses and broadleaves. This can be done through crop rotation and the use of cover crops. Examples of common crops in each category:
- Cool season grasses: oats, spring and winter wheat, rye
- Warm season grasses: corn, millet, sorghum, sudan
- Cool season broadleaf: peas, lentils, flax, canola
- Warm season broadleaf: soybean, sunflower, cowpea
If one or two of these crop types doesn’t fit into your operation, consider planting a cover crop mix with that crop type in the mix. By having all four categories in your rotation, you can help feed a more diverse soil microbiome.
When choosing species for your cover crop mix be sure to consider your other goals beyond feeding diverse soil life. For example:
- Utilizing excess moisture
- Forage for livestock
- Weed suppression
- Building organic matter
- Reducing compaction
- Fixing nitrogen.
News & Events
Craig Rau produces a variety of crops and cattle on his farm in northcentral South Dakota. Image Courtesy of SDSHC and USDA-NRCS South Dakota. By Lynn Betts For South Dakota Soil Health Coalition PIERRE, SD – Like most South Dakota farmers and ranchers, Craig Rau has...
By Stan Wise South Dakota Soil Health Coalition For many producers, knowing that soil health is important just isn’t enough. The challenge for them is how to pay for it. “Conservation is not cheap,” Marshall County producer Dennis Fagerland said. Soil health is...
By Lynn Betts For South Dakota Soil Health Coalition As concerns continue to build about a widespread drought across South Dakota this year, the state’s farmers and ranchers face yet another stressful year. Two exceptionally wet years in 2018 and 2019 followed by...