SDSU Extension and NRCS to host Soil Stewardship for Healthy Landscapes workshops

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – While land-use throughout South Dakota continues to change, SDSU Extension and South Dakota NRCS are hosting Soil Stewardship for Healthy Landscapes workshops throughout the state to discuss the future of one of our most precious resources – our soil.

“We will discuss questions like, ‘what sorts of risks will be faced in terms of soil loss?’ ‘What can be done to turn the tide?’ and more during these workshops,” explains Roger Gates, Professor & SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist.

Three workshops will be held in Watertown, Pierre and Sioux Falls. Workshops will begin at 9 a.m. (CST) and conclude by mid-afternoon. A noon lunch will be served.

There is no cost to attend the workshops, which are funded in part by the South Dakota Discovery Center. Registration will assist organizers in planning for the events. To register visit

Workshop details

• Watertown, June 14, 2016, at the SDSU Extension Watertown Regional Center (1910 W. Kemp Ave., Watertown)

• Pierre, June 15, 2016 at the Capital University Center in Pierre (925 E Sioux Ave., Pierre, SD 57501)

• Sioux Falls, June 16, 2016 at the SDSU Extension Sioux Falls Regional Center (2001 E. Eighth St., Sioux Falls)

The workshop’s featured speaker is Jay Fuhrer, Soil Health Specialist for North Dakota USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. Fuhrer has spent a career developing and implementing sound management principles that sustain and enhance soil productivity.

He will lead a morning presentation and facilitate afternoon discussions during a tour of leading farm operations.

The day’s concluding session will share information from both public and private conservation organizations that provide technical and financial support for land stewardship, practices that promote soil health and habitat maintenance and improvement.

More about the importance of soil stewardship

During the middle of the 20th Century, Gates shares a story where a European visitor asked an Iowa farmer, “how deep does your black soil go?” to which the farmer is reported to have answered “All the way, I guess.”

“This rich, black topsoil, that has supported agriculture and indeed, national prosperity since the time of settlement in the nineteenth century, resulted from long-term development beneath the extensive Great Plains prairies,” Gates explains. “The farmer’s answer portrays a long held attitude that this extraordinary resource was inexhaustible.”

Prairie-derived soils at risk

Research focused on both agricultural production and natural resource conservation has revealed that mollisols, the prairie derived soils that support U.S. grain production which exceeds levels anywhere else on the globe, are at ever greater risk from degradation and erosion.

Decisions to cultivate previously undisturbed grasslands contribute to the growing risk. Several recent studies have evaluated changes in land cover in an effort to document how changes may influence sustainability of desirable landscapes.

One study, “Estimated South Dakota Land Use Change from 2006 to 2012,” documented recent land use changes in South Dakota from spatial images and land cover classifications. An economic study, “New SDSU Survey on Land Use Decisions Highlights Role of Grasslands,” described how financial conditions contributed to the decision to maintain or convert land use. Another study entitled “Forecasting Unintended Consequences of Grassland Conversion” modeled a range of complex, interacting factors to understand and predict how conditions modify land use decisions using a Systems Dynamics approach.

This study also forecasted future land use change under various economic and social scenarios.