By Claire LaCanne, Agricultural Extension Educator for Rice and Steele Counties
Editor’s Note: U. of Minnesota Extension Educator Claire LaCanne wrote this article for the Faribault Daily News after attending SFA’s two-day “Dirt Rich” event Aug. 8-9 in Faribault. Rice County Extension was a co-sponsor of “Dirt Rich” and provided the classroom site for Faribault. We are grateful to Claire for her help with this event.
Farmers, agriculture professionals and conservation professionals gathered at last week’s Sustainable Farming Association event, “Dirt Rich: Building Soil Health Experts” to learn about the complexities and principles of improving a vital natural resource — soil.
“There is no silver bullet to improve soil health, but there are powerful tools to jumpstart the system,” said Dr. Allen Williams of Grass Fed Insights, LLC who came from Mississippi to speak Aug. 8-9 in Faribault.
Williams and Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, addressed five principles of soil health which are imperative to create a truly healthy soil system:
- Keep the soil covered
- Minimize soil disturbance
- Increase crop diversity
- Keep living roots in the soil
- Integrate livestock
These principles can be achieved in various ways, but Williams emphasized that “nothing is ever singular or neutral” regarding ramifications of land management decisions. Every decision scales up and can ultimately affect the health of crops, livestock, and more. The theme of the event was that healthy soil is complex, but attainable.
“Dirt Rich: Building Soil Health Experts” consisted of two separate two-day events, one in Faribault and one in Blue Earth. Faribault’s event was partly held in the Rice County 4-H Building with field demonstrations at Pork Chop Ridge Farm of Faribault and Hanappe Ranch of Northfield.
The field demonstrations emphasized using one’s senses and various monitoring tools to identify indicators of healthy soil. Participants then discussed the particulars of applying the principles of soil health. They touched on how to maximize the benefits of cover crop usage and reduced tillage, what seeding techniques to use, and how to best integrate livestock into their systems. Attendees also learned how to design and build temporary fencing and water systems in the field, an invaluable experience that cannot be adequately replicated in a classroom.
“We were very pleased with the attendance to the ‘Dirt Rich’ farm days,” said Tiffany Tripp of SFA’s Cannon River Chapter, who organized the Faribault event. There were 35 attendees at the event in Faribault and “some farmers came from as far as three hours away to learn about soil health and livestock grazing,” she said.
Williams and Solberg iterated that improving the health of the soil is imperative to crop health and resiliency. “Soil is to the plant as the rumen is to the cow,” said Williams. The soil is abundant with microbes that are responsible for nutrient cycling in the soil, just as microbes in a cow’s rumen aid digestion. Our cropping systems cannot be healthy and resilient without diverse and functioning soil microbial communities, the speakers stressed.
If you are interested in learning about soil health, consider attending these upcoming events: UMN Extension’s Cover Crop and Soil Health Learning Tour on Sept. 8 in Rushmore or SFA’s Midwest Soil Health Summit on Feb. 14-15, 2018, in Fergus Falls.
Click here for information about the Cover Crop and Soil Health Learning tour visit.