2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit


Gabe chats with two farmers

SFA’s Midwest Soil Health Summit, featuring Gabe Brown, is Feb. 18-19, 2015

Mark your calendars for our second annual, newly expanded MSHS on Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn.

Registration is now open – click here! 

Click here to download the 2015 MSHS Conference Schedule.

Last year’s MSHS was a sellout; we have added space for more attendees, but pre-registration now is the best way to guarantee your spot. Walk-up registration will be dependent on pre-registration numbers.

Sponsors and Exhibitors: Click here to download the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit Sponsor/Exhibitor Form.

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 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.”


The keynote speaker will be Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D. Brown is a pioneer in diverse cover cropping, having used no-till techniques for two decades. At the 2015 MSHS, Gabe will discuss soil health programming for

Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

beginners as well as lead a separate program for advanced farmers.

We are also proud to welcome Dr. Allen Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry as well as a leader in cutting edge grazing methodology. A co-project leader at the Pasture Project, Dr. Williams is also founding partner and president of Livestock Management Consultants, a founding partner of Grass Fed Beef and chairman of Association of Family Farms.

Also scheduled to appear:

Jerry Doan

Jerry Doan

Jerry Doan, farmer from Black Leg Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., a multi-generational family farm that emphasizes soil health. Jerry, along with his wife and children, raise a cow-calf herd as well as a custom grazing operation, and his sustainable farming choices have been critical in keeping his children invested in the farm. He was just honored with North Dakota State’s prestigious Agribusiness Award. To read a profile of the Doans, click here.

Michael Lehman

Michael Lehman

Dr. Michael Lehman, a research microbiologist whose studies include evaluating soil microbiological responses to agricultural management practices and determining if these effects are ecologically or economically significant

Dr. Wendy Taheri

Dr. Wendy Taheri


Dr. Wendy Taheri, a research microbiologist who specializes in the study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). Her primary responsibilities are to advance the USDA’s ability to apply molecular tools to the study of AMF in agro-ecosystems.

Kent Solberg

Kent Solberg

Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will discuss Designing Complex Cover Crop Blends. Kent and his wife, Linda, have a diversified pasture-based livestock farm near Verndale, Minn, where they raise dairy, pork, eggs and beef. Kent is also faculty at SFA’s Deep Roots Farmer Development program as a livestock, forage and farm skills instructor as well as head of SFA’s involvement with the Minnesota Dairy Initiative.

John Mesko

John Mesko

John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will lead a program on Soil Science Basics. John attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., obtaining a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agronomy and a Master of Science Degree in Farm Management. In his role at SFA, John develops local food networks, helps beginning farmers succeed, and expands the capacity of farmer networks. He and his family also own and operate Lighthouse Farm, producing grass-fed beef and pastured pork. To learn more about John, click here. 

Ian Cunningham 2

Ian Cunningham


Ian Cunningham, a cow-calf producer and veteran cover cropper from Pipestone County, Minn.


Note: This is a working schedule – session titles will be added as they are announced.

Wed., Feb. 18

  • 1 p.m. – Registration Opens
  • 1 p.m. – Soil Science Basics with John Mesko
  • 2:30 p.m. – International Roundtable
  • 4 p.m. – Special “Gab With Gabe” networking event with Gabe Brown. To attend you must purchase the additional “Gab With Gabe” ticket.
  • 6 p.m. – Social Time begins with cash bar, heavy appetizer buffet, welcome, interview of Gabe Brown and Dr. Allen Williams by John Mesko, “Soil Carbon Cowboys” film screening, exhibitors and more

Thurs., Feb. 19

Note: Additional Discussion Tables can be added for impromptu networking. If you would like to network with certain geographical or topical producers (i.e. North Dakota farmers, dairy farmers, etc.) see an SFA staffer at the MSHS or email gro.n1422337252m-afs1422337252@yrre1422337252j1422337252.

  • 7 a.m. – Registration opens
  • 8 a.m. – Opening Plenary Session: Welcome and introduction by John Mesko, VIP Welcome, Housekeeping with Jerry Ford
  • 8:15 a.m. – Dr. Allen Williams
  • 9:35 a.m. – Jerry Doan
  • 10:30 a.m. – Exhibits and Discussion Tables: Allen Williams, Jerry Doan, Gabe Brown
  • 11 a.m. – Ian Cunningham
  • 11:45 a.m. – LUNCH: Buffet, exhibits and discussion tables with Ian Cunningham and Gabe Brown
  • 1 p.m. – Dr. Wendy Taheri, “Understanding the Role of Diversity in Agricultural Ecosystems”
  • 1:45 p.m. – Dr. Michael Lehman
  • 2:30 p.m. – Exhibits and Discussion Tables: Wendy Taheri, Mike Lehman
  • 3 p.m. – Kent Solberg
  • 3:50 p.m. – Keynote: Gabe Brown
  • 5:15 p.m. – Conference ends


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.

Traveling by air?

Alexandria, Minn., is centrally located to airports in Minneapolis-St. Paul, with hundreds of flights daily, and Fargo, N.D. Limited flights are also available into St. Cloud, Minn. Paid shuttle service is available to Alexandria from the MSP airport; ask your travel agent.

Videos Featuring 2015 MSHS Presenters

Blackleg Ranch, Burleigh Co., ND from SC-NRCS & ESRI-SC Partnership on Vimeo.

SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.


Bronze Level Sponsors

mdalogo-sml Organic Valley NEW


Soil Health Information

From NRCS, this video, “The Science of Soil Health: Without Carrot or Stick” is a short interview with Penn State researcher Dr. Sjoerd Duiker that details how dairy farmers in his state are using cover crops to improve their business – without regulations or subsidies. Watch it here.

From Practical Farmers of Iowa, this article: “New research by a multi-state team of agronomists working with the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) suggests that up to 19 million acres of corn and soybean ground in the upper Mississippi River Basin has the potential to incorporate cover crops, which would decrease nitrogen entering the Gulf of Mexico by up to 400 million pounds.”

2014 MSHS

The following is a recap of the 2014 Summit, held Feb. 19-20, 2014, at Arrowwood. For a photo gallery, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Soil health is a red-hot topic for farmers, and SFA’s sold-out 2014 Midwest Soil Health Summit was brimming with excitement, knowledge, energy, and farmer networking.

Farmers came from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Saskatchewan, and even Australia to hear soil health pioneers Gabe Brown and Richard Bieber as well as soil research expert Wendy Taheri, SFA’s own expert Kent Solberg, Burleigh County’s Jay Fuhrer, and Ryan Stockwell of the National Wildlife Federation, as well as local producers Carmen Fernholz, Larry Heitkamp and Dan Middendorf.

Midwest Soil Health Summit presenter and soil health pioneer Rick Bieber chats with attendees at the MSHS Discussion Tables.

Midwest Soil Health Summit presenter and soil health pioneer Rick Bieber chats with attendees at the MSHS Discussion Tables.

The Summit kicked off Feb. 19 with the sold-out “Gab with Gabe” reception, where ten ticket-holders were treated to an intimate audience with Gabe Brown as well as SFA’s John Mesko and some fine cheese from SFA member Deb Pikovsky’s Star Thrower Farm.

The general sessions of the Summit began that evening with dinner and a casual conversation with John and Gabe. Rick Bieber was there, too, joining the conversation, and already it was evident that unique perspectives and cutting-edge soil health techniques were in abundance.

On snowy, icy Feb. 20, the Summit’s full day, a capacity-busting crowd of 140 jammed Arrowwood Resort, and it was pretty cool the way Gabe, Richard, and the rest of the Summit slate were so willing to share their knowledge and experience – even offering their personal contact information to Summit-goers for future questions and advice.

Especially inspiring was the session Kent Solberg led on cover cropping. Gabe, Richard and Wendy were in the audience, as well as producer panel member Carmen Fernholz, and each jumped in to Kent’s presentation when relevant to offer advice and perspective. It was a session jam-packed with knowledge that no one in attendance will ever forget.

Keep watching this page and SFA Connect for more details about the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood.


MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.

MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.



Shifting the focus of agriculture from maximum yields to maximum soil health quality is critical to the sustainability of agriculture in Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, the United States and globally.  SFA is committed to continued soil health programming, including programs addressing the integration of cover crops, row crops and livestock grazing.  We will continue the pursuit of funding and programs that foster the development of soil health building practices for the long term.