SFA Field Day: 30 Inches of Roots & Soil Health

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaBy Kent Solberg • SFA Livestock & Grazing Coordinator

A crowd huddled against the brisk November wind during a Nov. 1 SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota Field Day in Verndale. They were gathered around a freshly dug trench. All eyes were fixed on the man in the trench.

No, this wasn’t a funeral. The trench was dug to look at what the roots of a complex cover crop mix could do in sandy, compacted soils. Root hairs had penetrated the compaction layer and were going down at least 30 inches – Kent and Linda Solberg had planted the 12 species blend of cover crops on July 3.

As cattle grazed on the covers in the background, Kent; Jeff Duchene, NRCS Grazing Specialist; and James Schroepfer, agronomist with Ag Resources Consulting, Inc., discussed soil health, cover crops and managed grazing with a group of attentive producers from as far away as Bagley and Mountain Lake.

Earlier that afternoon, the group toured cover crops and managed grazing on Larry Heitkamp’s farm near Sebeka. Larry shared his crop rotation, cover cropping, fertility program, and how he integrates grazing dairy heifers to build soil health.

These farm tours were part of SFA’s Keep Cattle In Minnesota (KCIM) program and an MDA Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Grant. Based on evaluations from earlier KCIM events, we learned that there was a strong interest in cover crops and how to integrate livestock into cropping operations, so keep an eye on SFA Connect for future events focused on these topics.

Executive Director’s Note: Learning Environmental Accountability

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Agricultural practitioners have known forever that everything in the environment is connected with every human being on the planet. Nothing new to us. SFA was started 25 years ago in part because of that very idea, that what we do on our farms affects the environment and the community and the food we produce as a nation.

Actually, we’ve become known for our coordinated approach to sustainability. So much so, I’ve been invited by Conservation International to talk about what we are doing to promote sustainable agriculture in general and soil health in particular. As I write this, I am in Washington, D.C., with other sustainability leaders to attend Conservation International’s Ocean Health Index Roundtable. Conservation International has developed an Ocean Health Index, and the idea here is that everything on the planet contributes to the overall outcomes in terms of ocean health.

The first global rating of ocean health is not exactly stellar. Businesses, including farms, and countries individually contribute to our earth’s ocean health. Something I hope to bring to Conservation International is the understanding that ocean health is rooted in soil health (pun intended).

This is actually a part of a larger effort in global sustainability circles to assign a credit or a debit to a company’s books or a country’s economic ledger based on the contribution each entity makes to environmental health. It’s gotten me thinking about the assessment of our own farms and how they contribute to overall soil health and water quality. We know certain farming practices work for the benefit of the environment. It’s hard to miss with the soil health building practices such as cover crops and grazing, and the intense combination of those, that we will be highlighting at the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit.

But what do those practices actually contribute to the bottom line of the environment? And as a part of financial sustainability, what do they contribute to the bottom line of the farm’s economy, the community’s economy and our societies social health? I’ll let you know what I learn from this trip and what other sectors of our economy are doing to integrate environmental accounting into their outcomes.

Free SFA Soil Health Webinar Set for Nov. 21

KCIMRegistration is now open for a free SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota webinar featuring soil health experts Michael Lehman and Wendy Taheri of the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Lab in Brookings, S.D. The webinar, set for 1-2:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21, is part of our Keep Cattle In Minnesota project and functions as a bridge to our upcoming Midwest Soil Health Summit, where both Lehman and Taheri are scheduled to present.

Presentations include:

Cover Cropping: A Great Tool for Building Soils That Work – Lehman will consider the invisible world of soil microorganisms, what they do that is helpful to producers, and how cover cropping is one management tool that promotes soil microorganisms and their beneficial activities.

Understanding the Importance of Diversity in Cropping Systems – Taheri’s presentation will help farmers understand the importance of diversity in their cropping systems and the role cover crops play in creating and maintaining diversity.

To register, click here. This webinar is sponsored by The Pasture Project.

Keep Cattle In Minnesota Field Day is Nov. 1 Near Sebeka

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaThe Sustainable Farming Association is hosting a Cover Crop Field Day as part of its Keep Cattle in Minnesota project from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 2014, in the Sebeka/Verndale area. The event is free and open to the public, and no RSVP is required.

During the Field Day, attendees will review two fields planted to complex cover-crop mixes; one is planted to a cool-season mix and the other to a warm-season mix. These mixes were designed to stimulate soil microbes, build soil organic matter and provide livestock forage. Cattle will likely be utilizing at least one of these fields the day of the tour. There will be a soil pit in the second field to view cover crop root action and growth.

The tour begins at Larry Heitkamp’s Yellow Rose Organic Farm on County Road 12 seven miles east of U.S. 71 in Sebeka, or three miles east of the Co. Rd. 12 and Co. Rd. 23 intersection. Watch for SFA signs.

After the program at the Heitkamp farm, the group will caravan to the second stop, Kent and Linda Solberg’s farm, at 18618 Co. Rd. 23, Verndale.

The Keep Cattle in Minnesota project is funded in part by MDA Sustainable Ag and Energy Grant and NRCS. For more information about SFA or Keep Cattle in Minnesota, contact Wayne Monsen at wmonsen@gmail.com or visit our KCIM homepage.

After Last Year’s Sellout, Midwest Soil Health Summit Returns With Gabe Brown; Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for SFA’s second annual Midwest Soil Health Summit, featuring Gabe Brown, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn.

Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

The MSHS, newly expanded for 2015, also will feature Dr. Allen Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry.

Brown, the keynote speaker, owns Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., and is a pioneer in diverse cover cropping who has used no-till techniques for two decades. At the 2015 MSHS, Gabe will discuss soil health programming for beginners as well as lead a separate program for advanced farmers – if you attended the previous MSHS, rest assured this year’s version will include plenty of fresh information from Gabe.

Gabe Brown chats during the 'Gab With Gabe' session at the 2014 MSHS.

Gabe Brown chats during the ‘Gab With Gabe’ session at the 2014 MSHS.

Last year’s MSHS was a sellout; register now to guarantee your spot. Walk-up registration will be dependent on pre-registration numbers, and SFA members receive a $50 registration discount. Click here to register.

Also scheduled to appear:

  • Jerry Doan, farmer from Black Leg Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., a multi-generational family farm that emphasizes soil health.
  • Dr. Michael Lehman, a research microbiologist whose studies include evaluating soil microbiological responses to agricultural management practices.
  • Dr. Wendy Taheri, a research microbiologist who specializes in the study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).
  • Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will discuss Designing Complex Cover Crop Blends
  • John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will lead a program on Soil Science Basics
  • Ian Cunningham, a cow-calf producer and veteran cover cropper from Pipestone County, Minn.

Also returning this year is our exclusive “Gab With Gabe” networking session from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 18, 2015, with Gabe Brown. ONLY 10 TICKETS will be sold at $50 each for this chance to network one-on-one with a soil health pioneer. You must register for the MSHS separately – this ticket will ONLY get you into “Gab With Gabe.” Click here to register for “Gab With Gabe.”

Need a room? Arrowwood Resort is a family friendly location with ice fishing, cross country ski trails, snowmobiling, ice skating, broomball, and more. For more information or to reserve a room at the special MSHS rate of $99, call the resort at 320.762.1124.