Producers are invited to attend a Soil Health and Drought Management Workshop held July 27 in Mitchell at the Highland Conference Center (2000 Highland Way) from 9-11:30 a.m. All are welcome. Registration is not requested and there is no cost to attend.

The event is co-hosted by South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension, South Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition and USDA Farm Service Agency. The morning workshop will feature three presenters and include time for questions/answers. Presenters include Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension soils field specialist; Dan Forgey, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition board member and Gettysburg farmer; and a Farm Service Agency representative.

"With 63% of South Dakota experiencing drought conditions, we wanted to provide farmers and ranchers with information on soil health practices they can implement to make a difference moving forward as well as resources available to help today," explained Luke Reindl, South Dakota Farmers Union communications and legislative specialist.

A fifth-generation Wessington Springs crop and cattle producer, Reindl, 36, said during his farming career, he has experienced numerous droughts.

"And you feel kind of helpless. There is not much you can do -- if it is not going to rain. But there are some things we can control, like taking care of our soil and ensuring its healthy. That is what this workshop will focus on."

Make sure soils can retain moisture when it does rain In addition to his work as the SDSU Extension soils field specialist, Anthony Bly is also a farmer. And like many South Dakota producers, he has had to watch his crops suffer due to this summer's drought.

"Drought forces us to realize every drop of water is pretty important. Water conservation is at the heart of soil health," Bly said.

He explained that healthy soils have increased water holding capacity and are able to absorb large amounts of water quickly.

"Water infiltration is critical -- especially in a drought year," Bly said. "Despite the drought, where I live, we have had two downpours. During one, we received 2 inches of water. Fields managed with soil health practices absorbed the water. In other fields, the water ran off and ponded. It is odd to see ponding water during a drought."

Bly's July 27 presentation will discuss soil health practices farmers can implement to increase their soil’s water infiltration and water holding capacity moving forward.

"This crop is set. You cannot reverse the things that were done in the past. Today is the day to start planning for the future."

Workshop presenter Dan Forgey agrees with Bly. "The main reason for farmers to get together and attend this workshop is, although there isn't much we can do about this year, we need to look ahead to the future."

Forgey has managed a farm near Gettysburg for more than 50 years. During his presentation, he will share about soil health management practices he has implemented, that work and make a difference.

"I know what it is like going through a drought without healthy soils," said Forgey, who began implementing soil health practices like no-till and cover crops 30 years ago. "This growing season's been tough. Our corn is holding up better than some because it is on heavy winter wheat stubble, which gives the soil armor."

The Farm Service Agency representative will provide information and answer questions on programs available to aid farmers and ranchers.

"The common theme of all workshop presenters is helping farmers and ranchers get through this challenging time of drought," Reindl said.