January 20th Soil Health Workshop and Williams County Ag Improvement Meeting

Farmers and ranchers in the MonDak area are invited to participate in a soil health workshop on Thursday, January 20. The workshop, which is being sponsored by the Williams County Soil Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NDSU Extension Williams County, and the Williams County Ag Improvement Association, will begin at 9:00 am at the Williston Research Extension Center and will be a hybrid event featuring both in-person and online opportunities to participate.

Opening speaker for the workshop will be Frayne Olson, NDSU Crop Economist/Marketing Specialist. Frayne will provide a crop market update and outlook, a topic that should be of considerable interest as producers plan for the upcoming growing season.

The focus of the soil health portion of the program will be on increasing soil carbon as it is one of the primary components to improving soil health and resilience.

Keith Berns, a former teacher, who along with his brother are no-till farmers and co-owners of Green Cover Seed near Bladen, Nebraska, will lead off the discussion talking about “Carbonomics”. Berns came up with the term when he realized the distinct parallels between a healthy, robust economy and the types of biological activity taking place in a healthy, well-managed soil. Berns notes that a common thread weaving throughout a healthy soil economy is carbon.

Following the “Carbonomics” presentation, Hal Wieser, Soil Health Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will talk about management practices to increase soil carbon.

Lunch will be served at noon, compliments of the Williams County Ag Improvement Association, Williams County Soil Conservation District, and NDSU Extension Williams County.

After lunch, David Ripplinger, NDSU Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist, will give an overview on the emerging carbon markets. Carbon credits are one component of an emerging market for agriculture collectively known as “ecosystem services markets”. As practices that build soil health tend to also be practices that capture carbon in the soil, there may be opportunities for producers to participate in this emerging market.

To round out the program, staff from the Williston Research Extension Center and North Dakota Crop Improvement & Seed Association will provide updates on crop variety performance and new varieties being released by NDSU.

Following the conclusion of the program, all Williams County producers are invited to stay for the annual meeting of the Williams County Ag Improvement Association. Working closely with NDSU Extension Williams County, the Ag Improvement Association plays a key role in the increase of new varieties released by NDSU within the county and helps to support many ag related programs in the county.

Those planning to participate in the workshop are asked to pre-register to help with the meal count for in-person participation and if you plan to participate online, so you can be emailed the link to join the workshop. To pre-register, please contact the Williams County Soil Conservation District at 701-774-2319 or the NDSU Extension Williams County office at 701-577-4595. Please pre-register by Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Ecosystem Services and Upcoming Soil Health Workshop

One of the questions producers are starting to ask is if there is money to be made with soil health, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services.

There is a complex relationship between humans and the environment. Humans influence the environment and the environment provides humans with benefits, such as clean air, clean water, a stable climate, productive soils, etc. The services provided to humans by the environment are commonly referred to as ecosystem services. Working lands agriculture provides numerous ecosystem services to humans and the environment

For those who would like to learn more about navigating the emerging carbon markets, NDSU Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist David Ripplinger will be addressing the subject at the upcoming Soil Health workshop and Williams County Ag Improvement Association annual meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20 at the Williston Research Extension Center.

Even if emerging carbon markets don’t appear attractive, any time you increase soil carbon, you are also increasing soil health and you are still investing in long-term improvements that can eventually provide returns in the form of higher yields, reduced input costs and improved soil resilience.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service also recognizes that these emerging environmental markets could possibly be leveraged to help accomplish the agency’s mission of delivering conservation solutions so agricultural producers can protect natural resources and feed a growing world. While NRCS has been involved in environmental market activities since 2006, look for NRCS to offer expanded conservation program opportunities to support climate smart agriculture beginning in 2022.

NRCS’s environmental market activities are intended to support agricultural producers being compensated for providing society with the numerous ecosystem services that working land conservation practices provide. NRCS’s Working Lands Conservation Practices are entirely voluntary but are often complementary to environmental market objectives and could create a new revenue stream for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.

Those planning to participate in the Jan. 20th workshop are asked to pre-registration by Today.  To pre-register, please contact the Williams County Soil Conservation District at 701-774-2319 or the NDSU Extension Williams County office at 701-577-4595. Full details on the workshop which begins at 9:00 am can be found at https://wmscoscd.com/

Introduction to Intercropping Workshop:  Using Plant Synergies to Improve Crop Production

Another upcoming event that should be of wide interest to producers in the area is an Introduction to Intercropping workshop that will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at the Williston Research Extension Center beginning at 8:30 am.

The workshop will provide an opportunity to learn how farmers have been using intercropping to maximize crop quality and minimize disease risk on their farm. NDSU agronomists will present research data and farmers will share their experiences with this practice.

Lana Shaw, Research Manager at the South East Research Farm near Redvers, Saskatchewan (north of Mohall, ND) will share what she has learned about intercropping on the Canadian Prairies. This event is free and open to the public. The workshop is being offered as a hybrid event with opportunities to participate either in-person or online. If interested in participating in the workshop, please pre-register at the following link: https://forms.gle/Yft1PCE7Qs4W98rC8

NRCS helps Burke County farmers go on the offense against soil salinity

Photo credit: NRCS
Article by : Lon Tonneson

The Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in Burke County, N.D., has had some good luck halting the spread of saline areas in cropland.

Burke County has about 425,000 acres of cropland. Nearly every quarter of ground has some sort of saline problem; sometimes it covers as much as 20% of a field, says Mark Crosby, NRCS district conservationist.
Salt that has been carried to the soil surface by rising water tables can significantly reduce grain yields and, in many cases, will kill everything but kochia and foxtail barley.

“Farmers lose money on those acres, which drags down the profit margins on the whole farm,” Crosby says.

NRCS has helped Burke County farmers enroll more than 5,000 acres in cost-sharing and incentive programs over the past four years to help them manage saline soils.

The land is either planted to less salt-sensitive grain crops or to a mix of perennial grasses, depending on the salt levels. As a result, four things are happening:

  1. The spread of saline areas has been halted or slowed.
  2. Unproductive saline areas have started producing good quality forage.
  3. Converted saline areas have become excellent habitat for sage grouse, pheasant and other wildlife.
  4. Overall farm profitability has risen as expensive crop inputs aren’t being wasted on soils that don’t produce profitable grain yields.

Successful recipe
The Burke County NRCS field office has developed a successful recipe for managing saline areas.

The first step is to figure out how to reduce the water flowing into the saline areas from surrounding hills and slopes, Crosby says. This might involve changing tillage systems and crop rotations.

No-tilling will reduce runoff by increasing the ability of the soil to absorb and hold water.

grass planting

Changing the rotation to crops that use more water helps, too. Sunflowers, alfalfa and cover crops are good options.

The next step is to determine how “hot” the saline area is by soil testing. Soil with an Electrical Conductivity (EC) of less than 2.0 dS/m can be planted to crops that are somewhat salt tolerant. Best candidates include barley and sunflower.

Soils with an EC of 2.0 dS/m probably won’t grow any grain or oilseed crops. In those areas, it’s best to first kill the weeds, especially foxtail, and seed perennial grasses. Many grasses can grow in saline areas. They will lower water the table, which will draw down salts.

For Burke County, Crosby recommends a mixture of Canadian wild rye, western wheatgrass, slender wheatgrass, alfalfa, sweet clover and AC Saltlander green wheatgrass. AC Saltlander is an advanced-generation hybrid cross  between quackgrass and bluebunch wheatgrass. It has been one of the best grasses to plant on salt affected soils, Crosby says.  Most of the grasses in the mix are bunchgrasses, which root deeper than sod forming grasses, utilizing more salt affected water.

Dormant seeding the grass in November or December – often just before the first snow — has worked best, Crosby says.

Whether seeding a salt tolerant crop or the perennial grass mix, it’s best to plant a buffer around the edges of the saline area, too, to help stop the spread of the salinity, Crosby says.

Marshall Chrest, a Bowbells, N,D., farmer, has worked with NRCS to manage salinity. He has converted 50-75% of the saline areas on cropland they own to grass.

“It has really made a difference,” he says.

They no longer put expensive seed, herbicide or fertilizer on saline areas only to lose money on those acres. Instead, they produce hay on saline areas for their cow herd.

“It’s good forage, too, not junk like we were getting when it was just weeds,” Chrest says. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program that he is enrolled in allows the grasses to be harvested when the nutrient quality is still good.

He also appreciates the additional wildlife he sees in saline areas planted to the perennial grass mixture.

“We have been on the defense against salinity for a long time,” he says. “It was beating us up pretty bad. It’s nice to have another tool in the toolbox now.”

For more information on managing salinity, see your local NRCS field office.

Salts rise to the soil surface in Burke County cropland. (Photo: NRCS)

Perennial grasses planted in a saline area between the soybean field on the left and the hay land on the right. (Photo: NRCS)


Media contact:
Lon Tonneson
for the Natural Resources Conservation Service – North Dakota

Northern solution: Interseeded cover crop produces extra forage

Photo credit and article by : Lon Tonneson

In far northern North Dakota, Jason Overby is growing extra forage for his cattle by interseeding cover crops with forage barley.

Overby, Mohall, N.D., mixes hairy vetch, clover, turnip and forage barley seed together and no-till plants them all at the same time in late May or early June. All the seed germinates together, but the forage barley grows the fastest. The vetch, clover and turnip seedlings are shaded by the barley plants and stay small throughout the spring and early summer. After the forage barley is cut and baled for hay in late July or early August, the cover crops are exposed to sunlight and begin growing. By September, there’s often enough forage for the stock cows to graze until December.

Overby estimates that in 2021, which was very dry in his area, the forage barley yielded approximately 2 tons per acre acre. The cover crops produced enough forage for the cows to graze through the fall. The seed mix cost about $15 per acre.

“I think it works pretty well,” he says.

Overby is always looking for additional forage because he is relatively new to the cattle business. A few years ago, a neighbor offered him some pasture to rent. He took on the pasture and bought stock cows because he wanted to diversify his income.

“Cattle are my winter job,” he says.

A cash grain grower, Overby doesn’t want to convert too much of his valuable cropland to hayland. It’s more economical for him to buy some hay and corn silage. He also bales wheat and makes hay from grass on marginal cropland areas. He has even baled kochia. With his bale grinder, he can make use of a wide variety of feedstuffs.

Overby has tried growing cover crops by planting the seed after harvesting forage barley. The practice is common in parts of South Dakota and Nebraska. But the growing season along the North Dakota-Canadian border is too short to consistently produce much forage, especially if the seed lies in dry soils for several weeks before it germinates. July and August are often Overby’s driest months of the growing season. The first frost can occur in mid-September.

Christopher Criese, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist in Renville County, suggested Overby try interseeding. Criese had worked with farmers in nearby Burke County who interseeded.
“Interseeding gives cover crops a 3-4 week head start,” he says.

There’s also a soil health benefit. Interseeding increases the biological diversity in the field during the main growing season. It also keeps living roots in the soil longer during the year than a monoculture. Both can significantly boost soil micro-organisms populations, which help speed the increase in soil organic matter. In the future, Overby may try growing a full-season cover crop. It might produce as much or more forage than forage barley with an interseeded cover crop. Plus, the cows could graze the full season cover crop. There wouldn’t be any baling expense.

More forage and lower costs would be a win-win, Overby says.

NRCS has several cover crop cost sharing and incentive programs. For more information, see your local NRCS office.

Media contact:
Lon Tonneson
for the Natural Resources Conservation Service – North Dakota

Feeding Low-Quality Forages

Due to drought conditions that have impacted this area since last fall, many livestock producers have limited forage supplies available for this coming winter and in some cases quality of the forage may cause additional challenges.

If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to inventory feeds, estimate winter feed needs, get forages tested so you can compare hay quality to animal nutrient requirements, and plan supplement programs if needed. That was one of the key messages in the series of Western Beef Summit meetings held across the area 2 weeks ago by the NDSU Extension Service.

While ruminants like cattle can utilize some lower-quality forages in their diet, trying to overwinter cattle on low-quality forages that don’t meet their nutritional needs can lead to problems. In general, dry-matter intake is typically reduced with low-quality forages and the potential for nutrient deficiencies is increased.

Issues with feeding low-quality forages to overwintering cattle, which in this area are generally pregnant females, can include impaction, weight and body condition losses, lowered immune function, calving difficulty, calf health issues, reduced milk production, and decreased conception rates.

Characteristics of low-quality forages include high fiber content, low crude protein (CP) and energy (total digestible nutrients or TDN) content, and reduced fiber digestibility.

In cattle, nutrient intake must be adequate to support microbial fermentation in the rumen. Adequate dietary protein and energy are critical for microbial growth and production, which supplies the majority of energy used by the cow. Forages are generally considered low-quality if they have less than 7-8% crude protein as microbial fermentation in the rumen is reduced when crude protein levels are less than those values. This results in lowered digestibility and passage rates, both of which impact intake.

Feeding supplemental protein with these types of forages will help considerably in improving forage intake and nutrient utilization. Commonly used supplements include high-quality grass or legume hay, oilseed meals, or byproduct feeds such as corn gluten feed and distillers grains. Self-fed supplements such as protein tubs and blocks may also be used, but producers need to ensure that these products will contribute adequate additional protein to the diet.

While protein is often the focus, forages also may be deficient in energy. If TDN content is less than 50%, it would be inadequate in energy for most classes of livestock.

Energy supplement options include cereal grains, byproduct feeds high in digestible fiber (soybean hulls, wheat midds or beet pulp) or high-quality forage such as alfalfa.  Forage intake and digestion can be reduced when feeding high levels of starch-containing grain due to a shift in the rumen microbial population that favors starch-digesting microbes as opposed to fiber-digesting microbes. However, this can still be beneficial if the forage supply is limited by allowing producers to feed higher amounts of grain and reducing the amount of forage in the diet.

In addition to potential protein and energy deficiencies, drought-stress forages may be deficient in minerals and vitamins. These components of feeds are often overlooked; however, they are critical for growth, immune function and reproduction.

The best way to utilize any forage is through proper sampling and laboratory analysis so that the correct supplement can be used if needed.

The best sources for more information or advice would include your local agent with the NDSU Extension Service or feed representative. For more information on feed sampling and analysis, download the NDSU Extension publication “Sampling Feed for Analysis,” which is available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/sampling-feed-for-analysis

Winter Cereals for Haying or Grazing

Producers should consider taking advantage of any rains we may receive in the next month to establish a winter cereal for grazing or haying next spring.

Based on the results from this study conducted at the NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center in 2020, winter rye was the superior winter cereal for grazing cattle during May and early June. Winter triticale appears to be the best option for producing good-quality hay if the planned harvest is early June. Willow Creek winter wheat would not be recommended as a spring grazing winter cereal, but it is the best option if producing hay in mid to late June.

For more information on options, see the following research report on this study at the NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center website –  CGRECAR2021Sedivecetal.WinterCerealTrial.pdf (ndsu.edu)

Soil Health and Habitat Program

Pheasants Forever has created a new Soil Health and Habitat Program. This program is focused in the prairie pothole region with the goal to rebuild soil organic matter, sequester carbon, increase water infiltration and provide quality wildlife habitat on the least productive cropland acres while simultaneously improving profitability and sustainability.

Application sign-up began August 23, 2021 and will be accepted on a continuous basis. Online applications can be completed at: www.pheasantsforever.org/soilhealthandhabitat .

The Soil Health and Habitat Program includes perennial wildlife habitat consisting of grasses and wildflowers designed by PF biologists. For the perennial wildlife habitat, the program will provide seed and establishment cost not to exceed $150/acre based off actual receipts along with a $250 per acre one-time sign-up incentive. For cover crops, the program will provide $20 per acre for cover crop seed.

For more information and details on the program, contact Joey Rasco, North Dakota Precision Ag & Conservation Specialist with Pheasants Forever at 636-295-1398 or email: jrasco@pheasantsforever.org

Test Annual Forages Before Grazing or Feeding

Feed produced during a drought may have higher levels of nitrate than would be safe for livestock consumption. Ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep, are susceptible to nitrate poisoning because of their digestive process. Nitrate is converted to nitrite in the rumen. When nitrite moves into the blood stream it prevents the blood cells from carrying oxygen, resulting in suffocation. Abortions can also occur in cows where lower levels of nitrates are fed.

Drought-stressed forages from oats, barley, and corn account for most of the nitrate poisoning cases in North Dakota. However, a number of other crops can also accumulate nitrate, including wheat, sudan grass, sorghum sudan hybrids, turnips, and pearl millet along with certain weeds, especially kochia.  

Extension agents in this area have reported that many annual forage samples are coming back above acceptable levels for nitrates so testing for nitrates should be strongly considered before fields are grazed or before harvested feeds are fed.  Testing is cheaper than losing livestock.

Nitrate levels can sometimes be reduced by ensiling annual forages, but, unfortunately, they generally remain constant in forages cut and cured for hay and don’t dissipate over time.

Hay with higher than acceptable levels of nitrates can often still be utilized as feed but must be blended with other low-nitrate feeds. Blending is best accomplished by feeding a total mixed ration using a feed wagon. Hay grinding can also be an option by grinding high and low nitrate hays together in the proper proportions. However, don’t just set bales out or roll out bales expecting cattle to blend the hays on their own.

In addition to nitrates, drought stressed conditions can also increase the risk of prussic acid poisoning with sorghum or sorghum sudan hybrids. Prussic acid is similar-to nitrates in that it binds to the hemoglobin in the bloodstream which hinders oxygen transfer and can result in asphyxiation. Symptoms of prussic acid poisoning appear rapidly, within minutes of the livestock consuming forage. Immediate symptoms include staggering, labored breathing, spasms, and foaming at the mouth. Affected animals will often lie down and begin thrashing and if treatment isn’t administered quickly it will result in death.

Prussic acid poisoning is more of a concern if you plan to graze sorghum or sorghum sudan crosses and testing should be strongly considered before turning livestock out on sorghum sudan stands or mixtures containing sorghum sudan.

If samples come back marginal or unsafe, you can probably still utilize the forage but in a different fashion. Unlike nitrates that generally remain constant when cut for hay, prussic acid is volatile, and levels will drop as the plants die and dry down. As such, swathing the sorghum sudan and putting it up for hay would be one option. A couple other options would be to swath and then swath graze following a 7 to 10 day waiting period to allow the prussic acid to volatilize or wait to graze until 7 to 10 days after a hard, killing frost.

The best source of information on sampling, testing, and interpreting results on nitrates or prussic acid is the NDSU Extension Service. Contact your local extension agent for more information.

July 22nd Soil Health Tour

More and more farmers and ranchers are taking action to improve the health of their soil. Producers who use soil health building systems that include practices such as no-till, cover crops, and diverse species rotations have been reporting greater productivity, profitability, and resiliency to weather extremes. Healthy soil also helps protect our soil and water resources, and can lower input costs, which can lead to a healthier bottom line for your business.

If you would like to learn more about what some producers in the area have been doing to improve their soil health, make plans to join the Soil Conservation Districts, NDSU Extension Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Ag Improvement Associations in Williams and Divide counties for a soil health tour on Thursday, July 22.

The tour will start at the Williams County Soil Conservation District Building located on the grounds of the Williston Research Extension Center at 1:30 pm with a review of a cover crop and annual forage trial being conducted by the Soil Conservation District.

From there the tour will head north, ending up in the Noonan area, with stops at several farm operations along the way to hear about actions they are taking or planning to improve their soil health. The tour will conclude with a supper at Wildrose around 6:30 pm.

As most people will probably just want to head home following the supper in Wildrose rather than riding back to Williston to retrieve their vehicle, we are just planning to caravan to the various tour stops so carpooling will be encouraged.

Several farm operations will be featured on the tour. One will be Andrew Sylte near the 13 mile corner. Andrew is in the beginning phases of a sustainability plan that will use full season cover crops and livestock integration working with a neighbor along with fall seeded cover crops to add crop diversity and improve soil health.

Another will be the Wheeler Ranch north of Ray where Tom and Blake are using cover crops and regenerative ag practices to expand their livestock operation.

From there we’ll move up into Divide County to see how several producers including Harlan and Phil Johnson, the Jacobs Ranch and Greg Bush are using cover crops and intercropping to increase diversity and build soil health.

The long-term goal for many of these producers is to rebuild the soil closer to what it was under prairie conditions. Prairies and prairie soils flourished with a diversity of plants that grew from early spring to late fall. Unfortunately, farming has taken its toll on our soil with most agricultural land having at best only about half the organic matter and topsoil compared to what it had before it was first cultivated.

If you would like to join the tour at some point outside of the beginning stop at the Williston Research Extension Center, please contact Keith Brown, soil health and cropping systems specialist with the Williams County SCD at 701-648-9841 and he can give you an approximate time and general location for the various tour stops. 

Those planning to attend are asked to pre-register for the tour by July 19 so we have a fairly accurate count for the supper at Wildrose. To pre-register you can contact Kelly Leo, NDSU Extension agent in Williams County at 701-577-4595 or e-mail Kelly.leo@ndsu.edu;  Travis Binde, NDSU Extension agent in Divide County at 701-965-6501 or e-mail travis.binde@ndsu.edu; or Keith Brown at the Williams County SCD at 701-648-9841 or e-mail williams.scd.soilhealth@gmail.com