Dr Dwayne Beck, Dakota Lakes Research Farm, Pierre, South Dakota – 25th June 2015

This afternoon I visited with Dr Dwayne Beck at Dakota Lakes Research Farm. Dakota Lakes was started in about 1990 when a group of farmers decided they wanted to have some independent research done. Now the South Dakota State University is involved as well. By coincidence today was the farmer field day so I spent the afternoon with lots of other farmers.

Dwayne is know for his work on rotations and for the importance he places on residue cover. Dakota Lakes is in a dry area so residue is especially key.

The picture below is in a plot in a corn/ Soyabean rotation

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This is a poor rotation and it shows in the soil. There is not enough residue from the Soyabean and not enough carbon in the system. The soil is platey and this is normally blamed on no till but it is the rotation and lack of diversity.

The picture below is in a corn on corn rotation.

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The structure is better as there is more residue and carbon in this rotation but it is a bad rotation due to no diversity. They leave the stalks as long as possible. This means when the wind blows it remain where it should be. Due to their healthy soil they don’t need Bt corn.

They have been experimenting with growing corn with a permanent crop of alfalfa. To start with they just mixed in the alfalfa and it has struggled.

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Now they have tried leaving one corn row empty and putting in alfalfa and then having two rows of corn with higher seed rates

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The hope is that the alfalfa will bring up lime, water and other nutrients from deep.

They also have a wheat/ wheat corn/ corn Soyabean/ Soyabean rotation.

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With this rotation there is good residue and more diversity.

When they have a rotation with 50% low residue crops the crops can fail on the non irrigated land.

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The crop above is Teff grass which is after a failed wheat crop. As you can see the low residue leads to poor soil structure.

We then had talks on wheat pests and diseases which were not too different to our own and also talks on pea varieties. The we had a talk on some new crops they are trying

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Above is a relative of OSR whose name I forget, flax and Camelina. They are oilseeds and they are looking at using them for jet fuel of the US Navy.

We also saw where they were growing red clover in wheat. They will also be inter seeding ARG into corn next week using the coated seeds.

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The idea of this coating is to allow seeds to be broadcast successfully. The coating absorbs moisture and gets the seed started. If this is successful it could be a real game changer.

When we got back we heard from Sandy Smart

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He works for SDSU and is a rangeland specialist. They are looking at converting the roadside verges to native grass species for wildlife and also for baling. These bales could be used for forage or for biofuels and would replace the need for quite a lot of corn to be grown for ethanol. They are also looking to try to get livestock integrated back onto crop land to improve soil health.

I also had a quick look at their planter. It is a monster!

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Later in the evening I had some time with Dwayne and Sandy and we drove onto their Northern site to have a look around. My visit was very short but informative as ever when spending time with the Godfather of Sustainable Agriculture. Thank you to Dwayne and his team for letting me gate crash their field day. It is great to see independent research been done for farmers.