Soil and water

Soil Health Showcase: Wessington Springs Farm Host Tour Highlighting Soil Building Practices | New

“If you take care of the earth, the earth will take care of you.”

That was the message when Scott Kolousek addressed a crowd of about 30 at his farm near Wessington Springs during the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition’s (SDSHC) Soil Health Tour on July 21.

Kolousek is a fifth-generation farmer who has managed his fields without tillage for 20 years. The tour began with NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist Stan Boltz using a rainfall simulator to perform an infiltration test comparing moisture levels in five types of soil management: continuous grazing, rotational grazing , cover crop, zero tillage and conventional tillage.

Four of the five soil samples were from Beadle County and the other from neighboring Hyde County, so the soils were all essentially the same, Boltz said.

Using the simulator, Boltz applied nearly 3 inches of rain to swathes of soil representing each type of management.

The simulator showed the runoff and erosion that occurs when rain hits the ground.

The jars at the front of the sampling table filled with water which represented runoff while the jars below collected the water that had seeped into the ground.

As the rain simulator ran, bare soils, especially conventional tillage, soon began to show splashes containing soil particles, representing erosion.

NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist Stan Boltz demonstrates a slake test during the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC) Soil Health Tour

Tri-State Neighbor photo by Melisa Goss

The raindrop hits the ground at 15-20 mph, said SDSHC soil health technician Austin Carlson.

“You know how, when you’re outside in torrential rain without a raincoat, it kinda hurts? The same thing happens with soil,” Carlson said.

This energy hitting the ground breaks it up, he said, which then seals the surface of the ground, preventing infiltration.

“Instead, he goes off the field,” Carlson said.

After the 3 inches of rain had been applied to the soil samples, Boltz removed the no-till and conventional tillage trays and tipped them over, dumping their contents onto a tarp.

The difference was as clear as wet and dry.

The no-till plot was completely soaked, while the conventional-till plot was wet only at the edges. The center seemed not to have seen a single drop of rain. Most of the moisture that hit it was lost to runoff.

Boltz and Carlson also conducted an on-site quenching test, which demonstrates the stability of soil aggregates in water.

The test compared two clumps of soil, one from no-till land and the other from conventionally tilled land.

The pieces were each dropped into a large tube of water. While each lost small chunks of soil, conventionally tilled soil shed larger chunks faster than its no-till counterpart. The conventionally plowed water was also much murkier.

The water stayed fairly clear in the no-till tube because the soil aggregates stayed together instead of breaking apart.

“There is a clear visual difference between these two samples,” Carlson said.

A soil aggregate is a biological system in which microorganisms function like glue to hold particles together, Carlson said.

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Chris Christensen explores a cornfield on Kolousek Farms in Wessington Springs, SD

Tri-State Neighbor photo by Melisa Goss

“That’s why it’s important. If we have a biologically sound system, it will glue the soil together. And it’s not going to completely collapse in a rainy event,” he said.

Boltz compared the rain simulator and the extinguishing test to going to the doctor.

When a patient goes to the doctor for the first time, the nurse takes vital signs and the doctor can come in and take a look.

“They don’t really know what’s wrong with you at the time, they just know something’s wrong,” Boltz said.

The rain simulator seepage test is similar, serving as an indicator of whether the soil is working well or not.

Once the doctor and nurse observe and learn the patient’s symptoms, they might begin to get an idea of ​​what is wrong and order a more conclusive test like for strep throat.

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This is where the slake test comes in.

“We think we know something is wrong, so we’re going to do this waterproof test to see if overall stability is the issue,” Boltz said.

Slake tests can be done at home.

First, take a small sample from the soil surface. Pea-to-marble pieces work best, Boltz said. Place them in a few small, inexpensive sink strainers, then place the strainers in a bowl filled with water.

Wait 60 seconds, remove the colander and turn it upside down.

“You will see a huge difference,” Boltz said.

After the infiltration and extinction tests were completed, participants loaded up two school buses to visit four different areas of the Kolousek farm showing Kolousek’s crops, cover crops and grazing practices.

Kolousek discussed their practices at each stop and explained the benefits they saw.

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Scott Kolousek talks about his farming practices.

Tri-State Neighbor photo by Melisa Goss

Since switching to no-till, the Kolousek family has incorporated other soil health practices, including strengthening grazing rotations, introducing cover crops, and reviving dung beetle populations by eliminating insecticides. To pour.

Kolousek said the results have been very noticeable across his property, including an increase in organic matter.

Scott said the results can be seen across their entire farm, starting with an increase in organic matter. It’s over 6% in farm fields. He sows cover crops, such as legumes, directly into his wheat field, cutting very little for straw bales. He just takes what he needs to calve, goats and horses from the barn.

“If you remove all the straw, that’s how you lose your organic matter,” he said.

More organic matter means less fertilizer.

“It saves us money,” he said.

Grazing was also discussed prominently on the tour.

NRCS Soil Curator Rodney Huisman, who runs a ranch near Wessington Springs, told how he increased his grass per acre by 1,000 pounds.

Before Huisman worked for the NRCS, he had a discussion with NRCS course management specialist Rod Voss about a section of land with a fence that was in disrepair.

Huisman said his father-in-law would raise 75 to 80 pairs of cattle on the section.

Voss told him that he should graze the land more intensively for a shorter period.

Huisman said he thought Voss probably knew his stuff, so maybe he should listen to him. He put 180 couples on a quarter court.

“Most of you might think that’s nonsense,” Huisman said.

Three years later, Huisman and Voss measured progress.

What started with 2,300 lbs of grass per acre has grown to 3,3,00 lbs of grass per acre.

“Booyah!” Huisman pumped his fist in victory.

The South Dakota Soil Health Coalition will host a soil health school Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Bruce Carlson and Anthony Bly farms near Garretson.

The event will include presentations from growers and technical experts from across the region.

Participants will also gain practical experiences in the field.

Producers in the region will also share their challenges and successes with various methods of improving soil health.

For more information and to register, visit the SDSHC website at

Melisa Goss, deputy editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, is a South Dakota farmer whose love of travel has allowed her to see the vital impact of agriculture around the world, from America’s heartland to the rice paddies of Southeast Asia and many places in between. She moved to Hartford with her husband, daughter and miniature schnauzer. You can reach her at [email protected]