Digging Deep: The 2024 South Dakota Soil Conference

Rick Grosek, SDSPA Urban Ag Liaison, recently had the privilege of attending the 2024 South Dakota Soil Conference, hosted by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition on Jan. 23-24, 2024. Held at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City, the conference brought together farmers, ranchers, researchers, and industry experts from across the state and nation to share knowledge and learn about the latest advancements in soil health management.

Conference Welcome

Tony Sunseri works as the South Dakota State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Tony opened the conference with a warm welcome to all attendees.   Sunseri’s main point was to encourage all of us to learn as much as we could from our experiences (like this conference) and share that knowledge with others – to share with and learn from our neighbors.

Keynote Speakers

The conference showcased five wonderful keynote presentations, each with inspiring messages.  Grosek’s personal favorite was “When Two Daughters Get Married During Grazing Season” by Glenn Alzinga of Alderspring Ranch, Idaho. Alzinga spoke of a western ranch lifestyle and a passion for land stewardship that touched us all.

Breakout Sessions

Conference attendees had their pick of numerous breakout sessions covering a wide range of topics. A few breakout sessions of interest included:

  • Gardening for Healthy Soils, by Kent Vleiger, NRCS
  • Making Virtual Fences Visible with Multi-species Livestock, by Dave Ollila of Newell, SD
  • Long-Term Ag Impacts on Soil Loss and Carbon Dynamics, by Eli Halverson
  • Wildflower Forage Value and Mineral Status: Diverse Rangelands Benefit Livestock and Pollinators, by Kevin Sedivec
  • Soil Testing, by Terry Buettner of Ward Laboratories, Inc.
  • Worm Compost/Castings, by Lyle Casteel

Another session of particular interest was “Importance of Keeping You Healthy!” by SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist Andrea Bjornstad.  In this session, Bjornstad shared results from needs assessments related to farm and ranch stress and mental health.

Networking and Collaboration

Beyond the formal presentations, the conference provided ample opportunities for networking and collaboration. The exhibitor booth areas buzzed with activity as attendees learned about new products and services related to soil health.  Less formal “Sit Down Discussion Sessions” went later into evening hours and covered a wide range of topics.  Youth awards (and cash prizes!) were presented to winners of student essay and video contests.  Paul Jasa is the 2024 recipient of the “Friend of Soil Health” award, and Dennis Hoyle is the 2024 recipient of the “Legacy” award.  Congratulations to all!

More Than Just a Conference

The 2024 South Dakota Soil Conference was more than just a gathering of experts. It was a testament to the growing collective effort in South Dakota to protect and improve soil health. The passion and dedication of the attendees were palpable, leaving me feeling optimistic about the future of our state’s agricultural landscape.

Key Takeaways

Grosek expressed some of the key takeaways he gained from the conference:

  • Soil health is not just about crop yields; it’s about the long-term health of our planet.
  • There are numerous practices and technologies available to improve soil health, and the best approach often depends on local conditions and individual needs.
  • Collaboration and knowledge sharing are essential for advancing soil health research and implementation.
A Call to Action

If you’re interested in learning more about soil health and how you can contribute to its improvement, SDSPA encourages you to:

  • Visit the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition website for resources and information.
  • Connect with local soil conservation agencies and organizations.
  • Attend workshops and field days focused on soil health practices.
  • Share your own experiences and knowledge with others.

By working together, we can ensure that future generations inherit fertile, healthy soils that support a vibrant agricultural industry and a sustainable environment.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the 2024 South Dakota Soil Conference, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact Rick Grosek at sdspa.urbanag@gmail.com. Together, let’s cultivate a brighter future for our soil!