Soil health matters.
It is the most important ingredient in the recipe for sustainable says Dwayne Beck, Research Manager at Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, S.D.
Beck was a key speaker at this year's No-till on the Plains winter conference in Salina, which followed the theme "Back to the Basics: Managing Water and Nutrients."
Beck, a long-time proponent of no-till farming practices, talked about the changes he has seen in both production enterprises and in the structure of research.
"For years, we had a sizeable amount of investment in Land Grant universities to support research to provide information to farmers," Beck said. "Today that focus has shifted. Land Grant universities now get the bulk of their income in the form of grants from corporations who want studies done for them."
Dakota Lakes, he said, is a private production enterprise and a research farm. The production enterprise must produce sufficient profits to find the majority of the operational costs of the research. The farm utilizes 100% no-till farming.
The idea for the structure, he said, was to come up with a way to provide independent funding that would pay for research less likely to be influenced by special interests and politics.
Farming has changed drastically since 1970, Beck told the producers attending the conference.
"In 1970, wheat was $1.37 a bushel and oil was $3.30 a barrel," he said. "Eighty percent of the total input cost of ag today is fossil fuel; 120 years ago that was zero. In another 120 years, it will need to be zero again."
The key to success and sustainable agricultural production, Beck insists, is soil health.
And the key to soil health is diversity of plant life and root systems and a flourishing world of life underneath the soil.
"Tillage is a catastrophic event to soil life," Beck says. "Both macro and micro fauna are profoundly impacted."
Agriculture often spends too much time defining what should and should not be done and too little time focusing on what it wants to be.
"We tend to look at details, not at systems. Instead of acting, we are reacting. This is like driving down the road looking at the edge of the ditch in a dust storm."
To read more about Beck's remarks and the No-till on the Plains Winter Conference, watch for your March edition of Kansas Farmer.