Crystal and Levi Neuharth to Present "Farming for the Future with an Eye on Soil Health"

Levi Neuharth, Vice Chairman of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, and his wife Crystal Neuharth will be speaking at the 66th Annual National Hard Spring Wheat Show at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13th.

"We are going to share experiences on our family operation, Prairie Paradise Farms, and how we are "Farming for the Future with an Eye on Soil Health." We will go through the five principles of soil health and how each of them have helped us. We embrace a holistic approach to sustainability by focusing on our environmental impact as well as economic stability and human safety. We want to help people better understand the importance of soil and how it can be lost so quickly. We live in a world where quick solutions are often thought of, but when it comes to rebuilding organic matter/topsoil, it takes long term solutions. So, we need to think about what we are doing to the soil and how we can help rebuild it and keep it healthy," explained Crystal Neuharth.

The Neuharth's, manage about 2,300 acres of cropland and 3,000 acres of grass in west central South Dakota. They also custom graze cattle that enter their operation.

They manage their operation by using the five principles of Soil Health: First, Minimal Soil Disturbance - They want to disturb the soil as little as possible so that they aren't destroying the soil structure. "We want our soil to breathe and infiltrate water. We have been No-Till farming since 1993," said Neuharth.

Second, Diversity in Plants and Animals – They want to grow a variety of crops and keep a diverse crop rotation. Diverse crop rotation helps control disease, weeds, and pest issues. Also, different plants have different root systems so they can bring up different levels of nutrients to use. "Our Soil Food Web likes a diverse diet just like we do. We can survive off of eating the same single thing every day, but to remain healthy, we need a balanced diet. Animals are also very important to help cycle the nutrients. When you can have multiple species, they each have different plants they prefer, and you can get a better more even graze on your plants, they complement each other. If you look around at a native area, Mother Nature is incredibly diverse in the plants that grow and the animals that are in the environment. She has been successful longer than anyone," noted Neuharth.

Next, Living Roots – The easiest food for soil organisms comes from the roots of living soil. Plants feed the soil, and the soil feeds the plants. Having living plants also means that the plants are capturing energy from the sun and moving it into the soil.

Soil Cover – Covering the soil prevents evaporation, prevents erosion, helps with water infiltration and provides habitat for soil organisms. It also helps with weed suppression and keeping the soil cool on hot days. Our goal is to keep old crop residue covering the soil until new crop canopies.

Lastly, Integrate Livestock - This is the last principle the Neuharth's use on their cropland. "We haven't been able to get livestock onto all our cropland, but we are working towards it," said Neuharth. Livestock returns nutrients to the soil rather than take them somewhere else in straw or forage bale. They help cycle nutrients to feed the soil. Grazing cropland can give your grass a break and provide later season grazing. "We have been rotational grazing (dividing larger areas into smaller ones) with our crop and grassland. It helps spread the animal impact more evenly making sure every area has seen livestock," said Neuharth.

"When we made the shift to better our soil health we started with No-Till, Diverse Crop Rotations, and Soil Cover. After maintaining those for several years, we learned about the importance of living roots as much as possible, and so we adopted that idea of cover crops. We will be adding livestock to our cropland. Water can be a challenge when we are on our crop and hay land, but that is where we are working currently. All of the principles are extremely important; however, I may lean towards soil cover to be one of the most successful. If we don't have our soil covered, erosion and evaporation can take place. Without organic matter and topsoil, you have nothing, but dry thirsty unproductive dirt," noted Neuharth.

The past few years Neuharth's have been growing full-season cover crops, which is their cash crop for that field for the year. "With crop prices as low as they are it helps us spread risk and build our soil health. In our cover crop mixes we try and have six to ten different species so whatever conditions Mother Nature gives us something should grow, and the species can complement each other," said Neuharth.

The Neuharth's primary goal is to be as profitable as possible by keeping their input costs as low as they can while growing a quality product in a sustainable way. They explained that it is not their goal to produce the highest yield, but to have better margins for profit. Neuharth said, "We want our soil to be resilient, healthy, and profitable for generations to come."

Neuharth said, "Learning from other experiences have helped us see things in a new way and help us create new ideas to try at home. We hope sharing our story can help someone see things differently and create new ideas of their own to try on their farm."


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