Farm group links producers to soil health experts during webinar

Staff reports
Farm Forum

HURON, S.D. — Farming with his dad, Tim, and working fulltime in seed sales, agronomist Matt Zilverberg’s days are packed. But the Onida farmer still found time for South Dakota Farmers Union’s most recent Producer Ag Hour, which focused on soil health.

“This is another resource where I can gather information for free. As a farmer this is huge. You never know when you will pick up a tidbit of something you can implement on your farm,” Zilverberg said.

The tidbit Zilverberg picked up during the April 14 webinar had to do with a matching resource that connects crop producers without cattle, with cattle producers who don’t raise crops. The soil health Producer Ag Hour featured Austin Carlson, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition technician and Shawn Freeland, a Caputa cattle producer and vice chairman of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition Board.

“Integrating livestock is something we have not done up to this point and this resource gives us the opportunity to find someone to graze our corn stalks,” says Zilverberg of the South Dakota Grazing Exchange found on the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition website at https://www.sdsoilhealthcoalition.org/.

Grazing livestock is one of the five soil health principals Carlson covered during the one-hour presentation which included information on soil health basics to more complex topics like how to select and manage cover crops for dry conditions.

“There are different ways to handle cover crops in dry conditions,” Carlson said. He added that in his role as a soil health technician, he is happy to meet with producers, at no cost, and help them develop a soil health plan that will work to meet their goals and with their specific growing conditions.

“Every situation is a little different. But the key thing is, when you're thinking about cover crops, have a goal in mind be thinking ahead about what you want to plant next year, and what your next cash crop is. It's also good to consider your last cash crop,” Carlson said.

Dennis Larson appreciated Carlson’s insight. A retired farmer, Larson only leases his land to tenants who implement soil health practices. “I started farming in 1970. When I first started farming, I did things like everyone else did. We had quite a few dry years, and one day the wind came up and there was so much dust on a summer fallow field I had to get the chisel plow out of the shed and try and stop it. I never plowed since.”

Larson’s voice cracks with emotion as he recalls the story. “I feel as though the soil were given to us by God to care for.”

Connecting producers with information and resources is the motivation behind the Producer Ag Hour series that South Dakota Farmers Union launched in October.

“Today, farmers and ranchers face so many obstacles and challenges. We see these Producer Hours as one way to help our state’s family farmers and ranchers,” said Doug Sombke, president of South Dakota Farmers Union.

In addition to soil health, Producer Ag Hour webinars have connected producers with experts on topics ranging from transition and succession planning to livestock nutrition, national ag policy, market outlook and more.

“We initially planned to have a four-part series, but the feedback from the many farmers and ranchers we have tune in each month has encouraged us to do more,” said Karla Hofhenke, executive director for South Dakota Farmers Union.

All webinars can be accessed by visiting the South Dakota Farmers Union website at www.sdfu.org and clicking on the Media Library link under the News & Events tab.

Matt Zilverberg, an Onida farmer, found time recently for South Dakota Farmers Union’s most recent Producer Ag Hour, which focused on soil health.