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CCSP Takes Conservation Projects Out to Farms, Ranches in Sargent County

Farmers and ranchers in southeast North Dakota have the chance to do more than just learn  about new conservation practices.

Loretta Sorensen is a writer from Yankton, S.D.

Thanks to a new mission for the 18-year-old Conservation Cropping Systems Project (CCSP) made possible in part with a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) they now have a unique opportunity to adopt the practices on their farms.

“CCSP is going to help farmers answer their conservation questions by setting up small research areas on their cropland,” says Matt Olson, CCSP Technician and North Dakota Department of Health 319 Watershed coordinator in Forman, N.D.

CCSP is “changing gears,” says Bob Guetter, District Conservation for the USDA-NRCS Sargent County, ND Field Office. “CCSP is … moving forward to ensure that producers and landowners can see the results of this program and the conservation on their farm, their land, and their hard work. This program is bringing an entirely new meaning to Locally-Led Conservation.”

Huge success but still doubts

cattle, field

CCSP was launched in 1999 with funding from the North Dakota Department of Health 319 Program; the Wild Rice SCD (Sargent County), Ransom County SCD, Richland County SCD, and the James River County SCD (Dickey County) in North Dakota; and the Marshall County SCD and Day County SCD (SD) in South Dakota. Many businesses and communities supported CCSP, too.

The CCSP board of directors, made up of 14 farmers from southeast North Dakota and northeast South Dakota, established a 130-acre research farm near Forman. Over the past 18 years, the staff has experimented with no-till, strip-till, crop rotations and cover crops. Their work helped identify practical, successful conservation practices.

“CCSP has been a huge success for producers in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota by demonstrating different crop rotations and conservation practices to show what does and does not work on a more localized scale,” Guetter says.

But some field day visitors still wondered if the practices would really work on their farms. That led to the new strategy to put conservation projects out on farms, instead of demonstrating them at the CCSP farm.

“This new CCSP means producers and landowners will be able to take part in all phases of the experimentation and conservation practices,” Guetter says. “Instead of everyone coming to a centralized location and not knowing the background of the soils, crops, and fine details. Producers can now say, ‘Hey, my neighbor across the way is using and demonstrating those CCSP conservation practices right next to my land with similar soils and cropping system. It’s helping him, maybe I should try.’ The benefits will be seen in someone’s actual rotation and not just on a demonstration farm.”

CCSP will also be able to integrate livestock into the demonstrations, something that isn’t possible at the Forman site.

First project

Last year, in the first project of the new mission, CCSP helped a Dickey County, N.D. farmer set aside 50 acres of cropland and plant 30 acres of it into a diverse season-long cover crop. They divided the 30 acres into 5-acre paddocks and cattle grazed the 16-inch tall cover down to about 8-inches before being moved to a new paddock. On the remaining 20-acres, rye was flown onto the standing corn crop. They’ll compare the long-term difference between the two systems.

“We expect to implement two or three more of these types of on-farm research projects in 2018,” Olson says. “We know that manure increases soil organic matter and that there are significant microbiologic benefits in a system of cover crops and cattle.”

Full season cover crops can also provide a significant amount of forage.  ” For a minimal cost, the covers can help take pressure off pastures during dry cycles,” Olson says.