Merit or Myth website unites soil scientists and farmers

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Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Although most crop and livestock producers have a good idea of the desired outcomes that center on improved soil health, achieving these is not always easy.

Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension soils field specialist believes understanding soil is key to widespread improvement and preservation.

“Soil is our most important natural resource,” Bly said.

To improve understanding of soil and soil management practices, Bly encourages growers to become engaged in the Merit or Myth project (www.meritormyth.com).

“Merit or Myth seeks to engage agriculture producers, scientists and conservationists in an effort to address concerns or misconceptions about using soil health management practices, such as no-till,” Bly said.

Bly explained that no-till farming practices, diverse crop rotations, cover crops and integrating livestock into crop production require a different kind of management when compared with conventional farming.

“Somewhere, in most producers’ history, practices such as no-till that favor improved soil health may have been attempted,” Bly said.

However, Bly added, complexities, such as the interactions of climate – precipitation and temperature – along with equipment availability and adjustment, planting dates, crop variety selection, fertilizer placement, and several other factors have come together presenting challenging hurdles for ag producers.

“As a result, inaccurate conclusions or misconceptions, about why certain practices did not work may have caused producers to quit using them,” Bly said.

Based on his experience, Bly said these concerns are often management issues that include planting into too much residue, low soil temperatures, too much soil moisture in the spring, weed concerns and basic economics.

“So many times a crop farmer has said ‘It may work for you, but not for me on my farm,’ while the crop producer immediately across the road from him, is successful,” Bly explained.

So, what keeps most crop producers from using or trying no-till farming, adopting more diverse crop rotations, establishing cover crops and using livestock to complete the system?

Are the complexities true or false? The Merit or Myth project is a cooperative effort conducted by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners.

“Many successful South Dakota soil health producers are highlighted on this site, along with research conducted by South Dakota State University faculty, researchers and SDSU Extension staff who present the science in a series of short video clips, blogs, and podcasts,” Bly explained.

The first Merit or Myth discussion: “Residue: A Friend or Enemy” features Dr. Dwayne Beck in a video entitled “Residue is Your Friend.” To view this video, visit iGrow.org.