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Dakota Farm Show focuses on ROI and environment

VERMILLION, S.D. — At the 35th annual Dakota Farm Show, held Jan. 3-5, farmers were once again interested in management strategies or technology that could help them improve their return on investment in the continued low commodity price environment.

However, those same farmers were also looking at ways to be better environmental stewards.

John Riles Jr. with Midwest Shows says many of the nearly 300 exhibitors at the show were displaying various technologies designed to help producers improve their margins.

"There's a lot of real technological discussions going on here, and it's all focused on how do we reduce costs or be more efficient or drive yields," he says.

This year's agronomic discussions at the show included plans for more acres of soybeans since that crop has been more profitable than corn.

"The last two years, the beans have probably been $50 or $60 better than the corn has and again a lot less input costs, less harvest time," says Keith Mockler, an agronomist for Monsanto.

As a result, some farmers are even exploring the idea of breaking their 50-50 corn-soybean rotation.

"We're obviously going to see some beans on beans until this corn market rallies a little bit, but, there again, I'm going to caution anybody on doing that until it's time to plant. The biggest challenge with beans on beans is insects and diseases, soybean cyst being the No. 1," Mockler says.

Dave Schwans, president of N-Rich Plant Food Inc. of Humboldt, S.D., talked with growers about how their starter fertilizer product can help farmers to improve margins, by allowing them to use less overall fertilizer.

"We're trying to work more with placement, getting fertilizer placed where it should be, so that way you can back off on units. You can then have more units do a better job because you're placing them right in furrow at a cheaper cost," he says.

Technology like AgSense offers remote soil moisture and irrigation monitoring. Farmers can control their pivots via cell phone and have data at their fingertips.

"Tying into soil moisture probes, we can tell the ground if its saturated or not, so that will give you data if you need to be watering or not," says Josh Nienhueser, AgSense central territory manager.

This application also results in less water use.

"Instead of like the standard practice that it's always been ... I'm going to put an inch across every acre of that field. You can vary that throughout the field based on your soil types and terrain," he says.

Precise but variable water placement in the field is not only more environmentally sound, but it also saves the grower time and money.

"The more water that you pump, there's more cost for that irrigation to use electricity or the diesel fuel to pump that. So, the less water you pump, the more savings there is," Nienhueser says.

Seminars included topics to help farmers be better stewards of the land.

"Water quality and runoff and those impacts on the environment are hot topics," says Riles.

John McMaine, South Dakota State University assistant professor and extension water management engineer, spoke about the in-field practices farmers can employ to improve soil health and water quality.

"There's been a big push for things like cover crops, which are able to capture some of those nutrients. There's been a lot of no-till implemented," he says.

However, he also shared several edge-of-field practices farmers can use to promote water quality like buffers.

"Grass waterways, anything to reduce erosion — that's a big issue," says McMaine.

South Dakota is ahead of many other states when it comes to water quality, as farmers have avoided initiatives like bordering states have in place.

"I know a lot of our neighbors, Minnesota and Iowa, have a lot of issues especially with nitrate and that kind of thing," says McMaine.

Farmers are generally trying to do the right thing regarding the impact their agronomic practices are having on water quality, according to McMaine.

"I think farmers understand that they do have an impact on water quality, and, in many cases, farmers are just trying to make a living," he says.

Schwans agrees. "They're not going to go out and just cover fields with fertilizer just because they want to or they can. The margins are too tight," he says.