Salem farmer conserves soil with help from phone app connections

September 20, 2023

A Salem farmer gave up tillage, which has resulted in an improvement of the land on which he’s the fourth generation. And yes, there’s an app for that.

A dozen years ago, Kurt Stiefvater of Salem changed the way he farmed with the aim of maximizing crop yields through the management of soil moisture and soil health.

“I got into a three-way rotation of corn and soybeans and a small grain of either oats or wheat,” said Stiefvater. “Along with that came understanding the soil. [I got] the different crop rotation in there for weed control, but really liked the health benefits that came with that rotation, and it seemed like our yields maybe kind of plateaued a little bit. I looked to improve that and went the soil health direction.”

Stiefvater accomplishes this with digital help, reaching out to people who have answers. He uses what’s called the Growing Connections application to get in touch and share information.

“If you have questions about soil health you can present those questions to other farmers, specialists in the field, NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) people are all in there,” said Stiefvater. “Use it for narrowing down your search, presenting it to certain people or whatever, and maybe an area of the state that more fits to your question. [There’s] just a lot of creating a good network of farmers, agronomists and other soil health experts.”

For the past several years, Stiefvater has taken advantage of the knowledge base that makes up the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition.

“I’ve hosted the Soil Health School at my farm for two years and just really learned a lot from activities like that that the Soil Health Coalition puts on and awesome events that they have throughout the year to keep educating people, offering opportunities to learn,” he said.

Perhaps the greatest incentive for Stiefvater’s efforts to improve soil health is his desire to pass along his farm’s legacy to his daughters or to another like-minded individual.

“I believe in what I’m doing, that it’s for the better long-term health of the soil and productivity,” said Stiefvater. “I think we can do things now with conventional tillage and different management styles to create long productivity for our soils and be environmentally friendly at the same time.”

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