'Farming for the Bottom Line' conference explores drought, soils

Feb 28, 2018

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The 4th annual “Farming and Ranching for the Bottom Line” was held Tuesday at Bismarck State College.

The conference was held to talk about the weather outlook, crop production, grazing strategies and economics, especially in dry years.

David Archer is a research leader at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory, south of Mandan. His topic was “Economics of Improving Soil Quality.” Archer said one practice toward improving soil quality is “no-till” farming.

"It leaves a lot of residue on the surface, and a lot of cover that reduces evaporation and conserves soil moisture," Archer said. "In dry conditions, quite often we see an advantage."

Mark Liebig is a research soil scientist at the Laboratory. He agrees that “no-till” can be good for crops in a low-moisture environment. And he said farmers need to look closely at cropping options.

"Some crops are really heavy water users, and others not so much," Liebig said. "You might want to look at the portfolio and decide accordingly."

Liebig said last year – a drought year for some in western and central North Dakota, especially – bears that out.

"Our cool-season or early season crops really suffered," Liebig said. "Some of our warm season crops hunkered down and got through it,  and when the rains came in August, they bounced back."

Liebig said despite the dry start to 2018, March precipitation could help things a lot.