Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Continue the Challenge: Improve the Soil

Perspective skews perception. Seeing things in a new way is always a challenge. It is, perhaps especially true in farming where many practices are steeped in tradition dating back to the settlement of the land.
When you realize the vastness of the Great Plains, it is difficult to believe that traffic could have compacted the soil we farm. The artist in me wants to believe it is too open and free to have been affected by surface traffic. However, scientists warn that if you drive horses, cattle and machines over even a vast area for more than a hundred years, you might have impacted the soil tension underground.
Science indicates that there are layers of compaction in our fields. Click Here to read more from last season.
Although our farm is small in the big picture of agriculture, we want to diligently work to keep our soil in its most productive state. As science in agriculture advances, producers must try new ideas that may improve productivity of the land on the farm. Traditional practices include crop rotation, fertilizers, and tillage. Current ideas include less tillage and new methods.
Seeding cover crops of various kinds is a long standing practice in GriggsDakota. Historically we were most interested in catching snow and protecting top soil from drifting during our long frozen Winters. Although it was difficult to keep in mind this season, we are more likely to be dry and windy than too wet or snowy. Catching Winter snow on fields has long been key to successful crop production in this area.
More recently we have begun planting vegetables:  peas, turnips and radishes. The plant species have been specifically chosen or developed for root systems that pierce hard ground and allow the soil to mellow out while holding it in place through the windy cold and snow. We have become more aware of leaving organic matter in and on the soil by using no till and minimum tillage methods. 
Several years ago, we began to spend some time each Fall checking for compaction layers beneath the surface of our harvested fields. 
 We invested in a Brillion Zone Commander which we refer to as the deep ripper. It cuts slots through the compaction layers with little disturbance to the surface. The cuts will allow the roots of next year's crops to travel deeper into the soil as they seek water and nutrition to produce a crop.
Cheryl likes the tractor windows clean and I just invested in a case of Windex. No excuses anymore! We all should keep our windows this clean! 
But some of us, like Cheryl's husband Todd, are busy making sure things operate smoothly. 
Cheryl has covered many acres of ground with the Brillion this Fall in our effort to keep our soil productive. Once these slots are cut, they will be available to our crop roots for many seasons. The art and science of agriculture work together in GriggsDakota. 


  1. Love the pictures and the information you shared about soil compaction.

  2. The same kind of things can be seen in city yards... when people walk across the grass they are compacting the yard and may be impacting the grass' ability to grow... I remember my dad using an aerator.... can't imagine having to tackle it on hundreds of acres.

  3. I am so glad you posted a picture of a deep ripper. My fiancé leaves in Iowa and he has been doing a lot of that, but I didn't know what one looked like. I am a cattle girl, and was a little naive about no till. Now I realize it is really important to soil health.