New EQIP signup available for South Dakota farmers battling saline soils

EQIP signup will help South Dakota farmers adopt tools to help manage saline soils.

If you farm in areas like northeastern South Dakota, you’re probably familiar with saline soils with a white, crusty surface. “Those saline areas in the field are just deserts,” says Matthew Hubers, NRCS Day County district conservationist. “They don’t produce crops, and they don’t produce wildlife.”

Fortunately, northeastern South Dakota farmers impacted by saline soils can apply for help in managing these areas through NRCS’s EQIP program as detailed in this South Dakota Soil Health Coalition story. 

The NRCS in South Dakota has implemented a new Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) sign-up for producers in western Day County as well as portions of Brown, Marshall, Spink, and Clark Counties in northeastern South Dakota to help combat saline soils.

South Dakota saline soil map

“Those saline areas in the field are just deserts,” said Matthew Hubers, NRCS Day County district conservationist, in a South Dakota Soil Health Coalition news release. “They don’t produce crops, and they don’t produce wildlife.”

Saline soils plague an estimated 2 million acres in the Upper James River Basin in South Dakota. Saline soils have excessive levels of soluble salts in the soil water high enough to negatively affect plant growth, resulting in reduced crop yields and even plant death under severe conditions. The expansion of these areas of high salinity can result in:

  • Increased soil erosion throughout the year.
  • Loss of desired soil structure.
  • Loss of water infiltration and functional soil biology.
  • Advancement of invasive and noxious weeds.
  • Loss of profitability and yield production.
  • Loss of grass and hay production.
  • Increased input costs (nutrients, seed, and pesticide).
  • Loss of sustainable organic matter level.
  • Increased tillage and tile practices.

Rainfall patterns and the lack of good water use and land practices can influence the spread and severity of saline soils. Land management practices have prevented the leaching of salts over time, which has created shallow saline groundwater in wide areas of the James River watershed.

“We’ve sort of farmed ourselves into a little bit of a corner,” Hubers said. “The problem has become so big you couldn’t ignore it if you tried to.”

Conservation Practices

The good news is that conservation practices have been identified to fight the problem. These include:

  • Crop rotations.
  • The planting of cover crops.
  • Implementing reduced-tillage or no-till practices. 

“We can fix it, and we can fix it in such a fashion that it not only helps the farmer, but also every rural community in South Dakota,” Hubers said.

EQIP Sign-Up

That’s the aim of the new EQIP sign-up. Producers in the defined program target area of the upper reaches and eastern edge of the James River Basin who are farming soils that are saline/sodic or have the potential to become saline/sodic can receive financial assistance if they agree to implement the conservation strategies of the three-year program.

“There’s approximately $1 million annually in designated funds for this effort,” Hubers said. “If you’re willing to do the practices set forth by this initiative, your odds of funding are extremely good.”

Producers in the target area with unproductive saline or sodic soils in their fields that are costing them money will benefit from this program, but they need to apply soon.

The application deadline is October 1, 2020, for program implementation in 2021.

More information about the program will be presented at a soil health informational workshop at 5 p.m. on September 9 at City Park in Pierpont, South Dakota. 

For more program details and application information, producers should contact their local NRCS office.

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