Rotational grazing can improve soil health.

Ducks Unlimited Unveils New Working Lands Conservation Program

DU and NRCS grant helps landowners improve productivity and profitability of private lands

Agricultural producers in eastern South Dakota can get financial assistance for a variety of conservation practices focusing on improving soil health.

Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and several other partners developed the project under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) aimed at improving soil health, wildlife habitat and landscape productivity. RCPP provides landowners with financial assistance for incorporating regenerative farming practices, improving wildlife habitat, and diversifying crop rotations and landscape use.

A major concern for maintaining healthy and productive soils is keeping a living root in the soil, if possible, throughout the year. One way to accomplish this is by using cover crops.

"Cover crops provide a multitude of immeasurable benefits for nature and man. Providing forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife may be a couple of reasons for planting cover crops, but they can also sequester nutrients, dramatically reduce soil erosion, break up compaction, increase rainfall infiltration, and generally make the soil healthier," said Dan Mehlhaf, NRCS South Dakota district conservationist

Integrating livestock onto farmland is another way to improve soil health. Livestock forage on crop residue and cover crops to help minimize costs associated with feed.

"Livestock integration is one of the most essential, yet overlooked, aspects of soil health. Livestock grazing and hoof action stimulates plant regrowth, incorporates crop residue into the soil, and you get the added benefit of nutrient cycling from manure," says Brad Schmidt, Ducks Unlimited agronomist.

Other practices eligible for cost-share assistance include reducing tillage, diversifying crop rotations, fence and livestock water improvements, and dealing with problem soils.

"Historically, much of South Dakota was covered with vast grasslands and wetlands that provided excellent forage and important ecosystem services," said Steve Donovan, DU's South Dakota manager of conservation programs. "While Ducks Unlimited strives to protect wetlands and grasslands, we also understand wetlands embedded in cropland provide significant habitat to waterfowl and other wildlife species. It is our goal to work with producers to improve the health and productivity of cropland while also protecting wetlands and the important benefits they provide."

Donovan says DU's success relies on the health of privately owned lands and those who are responsible for their management.

"I'm excited to begin working with producers to improve soil health, protect wildlife habitat and help farmers increase the profitability of their land," Schmidt added.

Landowners interested in learning more about RCPP should contact their local NRCS office or Brad Schmidt of Ducks Unlimited at (605)-592-1277 or