This is How Sustainable Agriculture Gets Done in South Dakota

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The Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, South Dakota is dedicated to researching ways to strengthen the agriculture economy. The sustainable agriculture operation is a nonprofit and is operated by South Dakota State University.

Area farmers who care deeply about the state’s land’s well-being founded the nonprofit over 30 years ago. Dr. Dwayne Beck is the Research Farm’s manager. Beck is known for his crop rotation “rules,” which can help crops resist pests naturally. He also believes that soil moisture, nutrient management, and the use of cover crops, such as soybeans, wheat, legumes, lentils, brassicas, and canola, can help soil quality, too.

Grist recently lauded the nonprofit for its work, which aims to help South Dakota Farmers test land-friendly farming methods. The members experiment with “soil-nurturing” and “resource efficient agricultural methods.” The operation has been pesticide-free for 13 years (the project uses crop diversity, as stated above, instead). One of the project’s more lofty and admirable goals is to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026.

Overall, the organization's farmers work with Beck to plan research projects and capital improvements. The funds for the research program come from the University (such as from grants) and from production profits at the Station (also known as the Main Station) – where three quarters of the organization’s land resides. The other 360 acres is on the organization’s North Unit. In 2000, the North Unit was purchased to research the West River area’s soils. This area has always been farmed using no-till methods. The no-till method allows for earthworms and nightcrawlers to prosper. These bugs and worms are able to create tunnels that can help rainfall reach soil.

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Image: Lars Plougmann

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