The 2017 Midwest Soil Health Summit was held in a new venue but remained just as energy-filled as the past few years’ events. For two days, expert speakers delivered germane, sensible information on topics that, for many, not only educate but inspire.
Dr. Allen Williams’ presentation capped the Summit with his usual expert panache but also an overarcing message that we can not wait any longer to make changes to our farming systems. That our ability to feed and water ourselves will be at risk unless serious widespread changes are made – and everyone at the MSHS knows soil health is the answer, that Upper Midwestern farmers have the capacity to solve this problem at the grassroots level by adopting the Five Principles of Soil Health.
Further, as commodity prices continue to stumble, those who stick with the status quo may be at greater risk of losing their ability to make money. Soil health is the future, and thankfully SFA farmers are leading by example on their farms and in their communities.
Dr. Allen Williams is a champion of the grass-fed beef industry as well as a leader in cutting edge grazing methodology. Dr. Williams is a sixth-generation family farmer and holds BS, MS degrees in Agriculture from Clemson University and a Ph.D. from Louisiana State. He spent 15 years in academia in research, teaching, and extension, and has written more than 300 peer-reviewed and popular press articles. In 2000, he left academia and founded LMC, LLC. Since that time, he has worked with more than 3,500 farmers and ranchers in the US, Canada, Mexico, and South America. Dr. Williams currently serves as Chairman of the Association of Family Farms, Co-Chair of the Grassfed Exchange, Co-Project Leader of the Pasture Project, Facilitator in the USDA BFRDP EET program, and lead investigator in soil microbial research as a replacement for chemical fertilizers. This will be his third MSHS appearance; he has also helped lead many SFA grazing and soil health field days over the past few years.
Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, and his wife, Linda, have a diversified pasture-based livestock farm near Verndale, Minn., where they raise dairy, pork, eggs and beef. Solberg, who is an expert on livestock fencing, cover crop selection, wintering livestock, and an array of other innovative profit-focused soil health topics, serves as Livestock and Grazing Specialist and Minnesota Dairy Initiative Coordinator through the Sustainable Farming Association. He is also an instructor for SFA’s Deep Roots Farmer Development program and co-founded the Midwest Soil Health Summit in 2014. Kent was recently featured in an instructional video series discussing fencing, livestock watering, and more produced by frequent SFA collaborator The Pasture Project.
Grant Breitkreutz is the Cow/Calf Chair at the MN State Cattlemen’s Association. Grant, Dawn and Karlie operate Stoney Creek Farm near Redwood Falls, Minn. The operation includes a commercial cow/calf cattle operation with intensive rotational grazing, custom cattle feeding, and no-till row cropping as well as the use of cover crops. The farm has been recognized for conservation efforts by receiving the NCBA 2016 Region III Environmental Stewardship Award, Beef Magazine’s Trailblazer Award for 2016, and the 2010 MN Outstanding Conservationist Award of the year for Southwest Area 5 by the Minnesota Soil & Water Conservation District. Grant & Dawn were also recognized as the 2015 Cattlemen of the Year by the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association. To read a profile of Grant by SFA intern Kassie Brown, click here.
Ryan Stockwell is the Senior Agriculture Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). In that role, Ryan leads NWF work on cover crops and conducts outreach on Farm Bill conservation issues. The National Wildlife Federation is working with cover crop partners and stakeholders to address barriers to farmer adoption of cover crops, and NWF has taken a lead role in addressing crop insurance issues related to cover crop use. In his spare time, Ryan farms corn, soybeans, and winter wheat in central Wisconsin using no-till and cover crops. This marks Stockwell’s second time appearing at the Midwest Soil Health Summit; he spoke at the inaugural event in 2014. To read a profile of Ryan by SFA intern Kassie Brown, click here.
Dr. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, CFANS Agronomy/Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, completed his Ph.D. at North Carolina State University researching weed suppression mechanisms of roller-crimped cover crops in organic corn and soybean systems. His current research program focuses on improving the yield and quality of forage production systems including alfalfa, warm and cool season grasses, and small grains, along with employing a systems approach to improving the both the economical and environmental sustainability of corn and soybean production in Minnesota.
Doug Landblom is the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center’s Beef Cattle Specialist, whose primary research focus is in beef cattle systems. Landblom has always sought practical methods to reduce input cost without sacrificing animal performance. Having personal experience with cattle finishing in custom yards, he saw a need to study retained ownership in a vertically integrated business plan that integrated beef cattle production into a diverse crop rotation. Farmers and ranchers didn’t want to buy into such thinking; people said, “selling calves off the cow for an awesome price was good and backgrounding cattle all winter was not to their liking.” Besides, grain prices were skyrocketing and backgrounding/finishing budgets didn’t make sense. When a new wave of research opened up to study cover crops, soil health, and beef cattle production, his research focus changed. His goal over the last six years has been to identify the complementing holistic potential to improve soil quality through an alternative integrated grazing-based production system that generates income from cash crops (spring wheat and sunflowers) and beef income from yearling steers grazing annual forages in a diverse cropping system.
Scott Haase is a sixth-generation farmer from the Blue Earth River region of southern Minnesota. Farming conventionally with his dad and brother since 2006, Scott also operates the smaller scale Blue Dirt Farm with his wife, Anna, and their two sons. Blue Dirt Farm has developed a pastured pork operation, experimented with grass-fed beef, waterfowl, and poultry, and involves ongoing perennial crop establishment. At Blue Dirt, Scott is employing organic and permaculture principles while also dabbling in sustainable living design with construction of a passive solar home. Focused on restoring natural patterns, Scott is both a student and a teacher with the goal of enhancing resiliency and beauty in the landscape while also maximizing human liberty and happiness. To read a profile of Scott by SFA intern Kassie Brown, click here.
Dr. Carl Rosen is Head of the Department of Soil, Water, & Climate at the University of Minnesota, where he supervises an active research laboratory related to nutrient management for crop production. The research and extension programs include identifying needs and establishing priorities in areas of plant nutrition and improving fertilizer use efficiency for crop production, including commercial fruit and vegetable production. His work with the Land and Atmospheric Science Graduate Program includes impact of crop production on nutrient leaching/runoff, nutrient cycling in crop production fields and managed landscapes, recycling of municipal and industrial wastes as soil amendments, and composting and compost utilization.
Glen Borgerding is owner of Ag Resource Consulting, Inc., an agricultural consulting firm and soil testing laboratory based in Albany, Minn. Glen is a Certified Crop Advisor and a Technical Service Provider for the NRCS and has been consulting with farmers since 1984. He specializes in soil fertility and nutrient management, and has been working with farmers across the Upper Midwest on both crop- and livestock-based operations.
Dr. Julie Grossman is a new faculty member in the University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science specializing in soil fertility of organic cropping systems. Her work emphasizes improved management of plant-soil-microbe relationships in organic systems, especially the use of legumes to help provide nitrogen to horticultural crops. Central to Julie’s teaching toolbox are experiential learning strategies that help her students to address public needs while developing soil science skills.
Dr. Randy Anderson will discuss no-till systems without herbicides that include a diverse crop rotation. Dr. Anderson has conducted research for developing low-input cropping systems based on crop diversity and rotation design. One benefit of this systems research is a population-based approach to weed management that reduces herbicide inputs 50 percent compared to conventional practices. He is currently seeking to develop a no-till organic system based on a population-based weed management approach.
Dr. Nick David, Midwest Regional Agronomist for the R.D. Offutt Co., is based in Park Rapids, Minn. He has a Ph.D. in Botany and Plant Pathology from Oregon State and a B.S. in Soil and Crop Sciences from Colorado State. Nick leads a team of agronomists responsible for continuous improvements in sustainable irrigated potato production on the company’s Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin farms totaling about 30,000 acres, and approximately 6,000 acres of irrigated pea production. In addition, Nick manages all cooperative, science-based alliances with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota, North Dakota State University, and other non-commercial entities to research, test, implement, and expand cutting-edge agricultural practices focused on environmental sustainability.
Mike Sams has been involved in agriculture for over 35 years, conducting conventional, organic and mixed-power operations. He is predominately engaged in beef production with some rotational cropping systems. Since 2000, he has been an instructor with the Heavy Equipment Program at Central Lakes College in Staples. In 2016, Mike engaged into a research project regarding rotational grazing of cover crops with partners RDO Farms and Central Lakes College. The project was massive in size for the area, including nearly 200 cow-calf pairs and 400 acres of irrigated crop ground.