The Science of Soil Health: Systems in Agroecology

[Music] If you drive a little way from Pierre,
South Dakota you’ll find that the Dakota Lakes research farm, but if you’re looking for people in lab
coats, you’ll be disappointed because the researchers are out in the
field. I spent a couple of days with Dr.
Dwayne Beck, the farm manager, who walked me through some of the
philosophies Dakota Lakes implemented since 1990. In a systems approach, what
we’re doing is we’re looking using basic ecology principles to try to decide how things work, and that
comes down to why you look at the native vegetation first. And and that tell you what you can
do where you’re at, but to use Mother Nature’s systems. It’s an approach of trying to fit in with what the system
will allow you to do rather than trying to make the system do
what you want it to do. I mean the idea how close can we get to mimicking the natural ecosystem in terms of how we cycle the nutrients, how we harvest the sunlight, how we cycle the water…. living
soils… is one of the things that’s on the sign. The outcomes are what we’re really
looking for – we can’t get to that outcome with no-till alone, we can get that outcome with cover crops
alone, we can’t yet to that outcome in my
opinion with rotations that aren’t diverse, which everybody wants to do… because you know, “I’m a corn grower”, ok, I’m corn grower too! And I grow wheat and i grow teff and I grow peas and I grow lentils and I grow a row flax and I grow soybeans and I grow sunflowers, and I .. right? We do all those things. And I have some perennials. We can still keep high percentages if we think corn like under irrigation
corn is a good thing, we keep a high percentage of corn in the rotation but we’re throwing this other stuff in there just to mix it up! And it makes the
corn better, and much cheaper to grow. The point is
that as farmers, the diversity gives you lots of advantages, economic advantages that that you don’t
necessarily see unless you’re doing ’em because they
save you all this money if you figure out how to take advantage of the system.

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