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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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!


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.

15th January 2015- Dr Dwayne Beck, BASE UK meeting

Today I spent the day listening to Dr Dwayne Beck of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, South Dakota at a BASE UK (www.base-uk.co.uk ) meeting in Baldock, Hertfordshire.

dakota lakes

Dr Beck’s main interest is in no till, cover crops and especially rotations. During the day he highlighted the importance of very diverse rotations including stacked rotations. He highlighted the importance of having a rotation containing warm season broadleaves and grasses and cool season broadleaves and grasses. He also emphasised the importance of having a two year gap between crop types not just one, which is commonplace here. For example: winter wheat, maize, spring peas, Winter OSR, Winter Barley, Spring Oats, spring linseed, Winter Beans. The above rotation is very complex and may not be practical but it has 2 broadleaf crops followed by 2 cereals but also two winter crops followed by two spring crops. The idea is that it allows you 2 years to get on top grass weeds in the broadleaf part of the rotation and 2 years to get on top of BLW in the cereal part of the rotation. The mixing between drilling dates and harvest dates stops predictability, so weeds are always guessing along with insects and disease. This type of approach has been shown to dramatically reduce weed pressure and also input costs.


Also Dr Beck talked about seed balls. The this is where you coat seeds in a clay substance and then broadcast the seed so need for a drill. The idea is the coating makes the seed weatherproof and more likely to germinate, which is always a problem with broadcasting. I like the idea of no drill. It would be the end of the “which drill is best debate”, hallelujah!!

Dr. Beck is also experimenting with intercropping. He is growing forage corn and forage soyabean together. Also Corn with a living mulch of Alfalfa. My ears really pricked up at this point as this is what I am studying on my Nuffield. Dr. Beck has kindly offered to show me around Dakota Lakes farm so off to South Dakota I am going!

Www.dakotalakes.com is the research farm’s website and there is a lot of information on this site in the publications section. Well worth a read. Overall a productive day spent with 100 other like minded people.