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Cropping Systems Inventory in South Dakota

 Cropping Systems Inventory


New NRCS Report Says Use of No-Till is on the Rise But Not Statewide

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, Huron, SD, April 29, 2014–More farmers across South Dakota are using conservation in their cropland management systems than a decade ago announces officials with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Last year, South Dakota NRCS and partners conducted a county-level inventory on cropland management systems (no-till, mulch tillage, reduced tillage or conventional tillage) and crop types planted.

NRCS State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich, Huron, who released the report says “The results of the 2013 Cropping Systems Inventory shows a 29 percent expansion in no-till farming systems in South Dakota acres since 2004, which was the last time this type of data was collected in South Dakota.

The 2013 inventory found use of no-till cropping systems to be predominant on 45 percent of South Dakota cropland (6.2 million acres). A cropping system that leaves more than 30 percent residue cover on the soil surface after planting (including no-till) was used on more than 60 percent of the state’s cropland. The percentage of acres under conventional tillage was unchanged, however, the location of those acres shifted. The greatest increase in the use of a no-till system occurred in central South Dakota.

Cropping systems impact the health and productivity of soil. Zimprich says, “This is why NRCS is focusing on helping farmers and ranchers improve the health of their resources. Soil health matters. Healthy soil is the key to the sustainability of our soil and water resources; it’s the key to the productivity, profitability and resiliency of our farms and ranches; and it’s the key to reducing or eliminating any off-site water or air quality impacts of agricultural production.”

Advanced cropping systems include conservation practices such as no-till, diversified cropping rotations and cover crops. The number of counties with more than 75 percent of their cropland acres under a no-till system increased from 4 counties in 2004, to 14 counties in 2013. While the overall acres under no-till increased, in eastern South Dakota, 16 counties decreased their no-till cropland acres.

Zimprich says, “Using cropping systems that don’t disturb the soil, that keep the soil covered, that keep roots growing year-round and that use diverse cover crop mixes and crop rotations are the tools that enable our farmers to improve soil health. Producers across South Dakota like Bill Nelson who farms in Lake County, Jorgensen Farms in Tripp County and Al Miron in Minnehaha County are demonstrating long-term success and profitability with cropping systems that focus on healthy soil.”

To learn more, contact the NRCS staff found in your local USDA Service Center. A summary of the inventory is online at, under “newsroom.”


2013 Cropping Systems Inventory Report (PDF; 3.7 MB)

2004-2013 Acres Chart (jpg; 838 KB)

2004-2013 Acres Trend Chart (jpg; 680 KB)

2004-2013 County No-Till Density Map (jpg; 1 MB)


BryanJorgensenSoil (jpg; 2.1 MB) Jorgensen Farms manage 16,500 acres in south central South Dakota near Ideal. Their no-till farming system has a diversified cropping rotation with cover crops and livestock. Their crop rotation includes: corn, cane, milo, oats, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa with use of cover crops.

In the 1990s, Bryan Jorgensen channeled his energy and interest in healthier soil toward a complete overhaul of their operation. “Frankly, our soils are now much more robust and healthy for the direction we’ve taken. Our fields have about 4 percent organic matter and the microbial growth in the soil has increased significantly over the past three decades.”

Jorgensen’s nutrient management plan approach has shifted from relying solely on soil test chemical results to now evaluating a combination of soil chemical and biological processes to achieve his yield goals with less inputs. Yield is the proof, but the success of his decisions, he says, lies in the soil.


Nelson - Corn in Residue (jpg; 7.2 MB) & NelsonSoil-DSCF2099 (jpg; 5.1 MB) Soil samples in Bill Nelson’s fields in Lake County, SD, show a rich, dark soil with high organic matter (averaging 5- to 6.1 percent). For more than 30 years, the fields have been under no-till with a diversified crop rotation including corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats, spring wheat, winter wheat, rye, and cover crops. Nelson adjusts the rotation based on what he feels the soil needs based on visual and soil test results. He believes that the use of a cover crops mixture and small grains has been the key factor why he has fewer weed, disease and insect problems because they build the soil.

For example, 2009-2011 were above average precipitation years in eastern South Dakota. “Like everyone, I was worried about getting in to plant. By waiting, I allowed the soil to function (let the macro pores move the extra precipitation into the soil profile) rather than using tillage to dry the surface. I was surprised when my soil performed well under the planting equipment.” Nelson says, “That’s a good cropping system!”

“We had that big rain on May 5 and I had no erosion and no run-off. Not one field had a problem because the organic matter and good soil structure put that water into the profile.” That sub soil moisture was useful in August.

“The no-till cropping system works and I’m happy with the yield results,” he says. “For me, it is my choice and a personal challenge to continue to decrease chemical inputs while getting respectable return. I am seeing better soil structure, better infiltration, an increase in the biological activity in the soil, and more beneficial insects around my fields.”