For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing what’s best for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. In other words, producing enough food for today, while also ensuring the ability to feed the world tomorrow.
Research and technology have brought continuous improvements to farming practices so today’s farmers can grow more crops using less land and fewer inputs. South Dakota soybean farmers care just as much as you do about the future of our land and natural resources. With efficient machinery and precision agriculture tools, they are now raising more food while using fewer resources.
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing what’s best for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. It’s all about making the right environmental choices now so families can continue to enjoy safe and healthy food in the future.
Farmers are continually incorporating practices and improving their farms to reduce the impact they have on the environment. Since 1980, soybean farmers have:
- Reduced their energy use by 35%.
- Reduced soil loss by 47% per acre.
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44%.
- Reduced the amount of water used for irrigation by 33%.
- Reduced their land use 40% – acres per unit of production.
Technology is used every day on the farm and helps farmers care for their crops with precision and efficiency. These are some of the key tools they use:
- GPS: Just like you use GPS to get to where you need to go, farmers use it to ensure they cover each acre in the most efficient way. The GPS signal helps guide their equipment on a straight course through the field.
- Soil sampling: Every couple years, farmers test their fields to get a detailed breakdown of what’s in their soil. Samples are taken from specific locations in the field and sent to a lab. Then, a map for each tested component, such as nitrogen, organic matter or pH levels, is created. The maps come back as over-the-top pictures of their fields, identifying different zones they use for variable-rate applications.
- Variable-rate application:Farmers use technology in the tractor to increase or decrease the rate at which seeds, pesticides and fertilizers are applied. How do they know when and how much to adjust? It all starts with a map of the field that’s created with data from soil tests and harvest results. A soil map shows where soil types and nutrient levels vary throughout the field. Yield maps provide performance data from previous years so farmers can see which parts of the field typically grow best. Here’s a look at how variable-rate applications are used for planting, pesticides and fertilizers:
- Planting: Field maps based on soil types and yield data are converted into a planting prescription map that shows exactly where and how much seed to apply in each area of the field.
- Pesticides: Advanced technology helps farmers apply pesticides safely, exactly where they’re needed. To prevent pesticides from drifting in the air, the system can adjust the size of the droplets and adapt the sprayer’s arms, or booms, to the height of the plants as they drive across the field. Automatic shut offs stop spraying when the tractor reaches the end of the field to turn around, which helps avoid overlapping.
- Fertilizer: Soil tests and field maps can also indicate areas low in specific nutrients. Variable-rate technology ensures every corner of the field gets the nutrients it needs for a successful growing season.
Crop protection products like pesticides and fertilizers are powerful tools that farmers take seriously. Before any farmer can use these products, they must go through training to become certified. This ensures they understand how to safely handle the chemicals, properly apply them, keep our communities safe, protect the environment and reduce risk to those who are applying them. The EPA makes sure label instructions are clear and easy to use, and that the pesticide does not place workers at risk. Here’s a look at the key components of a proper application:
- Rate: With today’s advanced farm technology, farmers can apply products at a precise and variable rate based on specific needs, which reduces the overall amount they need to use.
- Time: Sometimes it’s important to act early to get ahead of a weed or pest. Sometimes, farmers will identify an issue during the growing season and need to act quickly. Either way, timing is crucial. The weather also plays a big role in determining when it’s safe to spray. Farmers take all this into consideration when deciding when and how often to apply.
- Place: Crops can only access fertilizers or pesticides if they are applied in the right place so farmers need to be specific about how and where they apply them.
“One misunderstanding I frequently hear is that farmers spray as much pesticides on crops as possible. That’s not true. The USDA regulates pesticides, and they’re expensive. Using pesticides in my garden and on the farm helps make my job easier and helps plants reach their full potential.” – Morgan, farmer from Colman
South Dakota soybean farmers use sustainable strategies to keep their soils healthy, improve the land and protect the environment. They even find creative ways to recycle on the farm. Here are some of the other practices they use:
- Cover crops, like rye and barley, are planted specifically to protect the ground between growing seasons by keeping the soil in place and preventing erosion from wind and harsh weather. Cover crops are planted on over 2,100 farms in South Dakota.
- Crop rotation keeps soils healthy and helps them hold onto nutrients. Planting different crops on different acres each season also helps farmers control weeds, diseases and pests in their fields and, in turn, allows them to use less pesticides while replenishing their soils.
- Conservation tillage is used on more than 70% of the nation’s soybean acres and more than 6,100 farms in South Dakota. Traditionally, farmers would till their fields in preparation for planting to clear away debris from the previous season and break up the soil. However, when farmers can minimize or eliminate tillage, roots and stalks from the last season’s crop stay in place and enrich the soil. The undisturbed ground also allows for better water movement, a reduction in runoff and protection against erosion.
- GMO soybean seeds require less pesticides because they have built-in weed resistance and stronger internal defenses to protect against other threats like harsh weather. They also require less water, meaning they can tolerate dry weather to reduce or eliminate irrigation.