The Sustainable Farming Association’s Networking for Soil Health Project is a community-based educational and outreach program, dedicated to increasing skills, knowledge and experience of USDA-NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Ag Extension professionals, ag industry personnel, educators and crop consultants to conduct effective soil health-related and sustainability programs for farmers. The Project enables professionals to assist and educate farmers on soil health-related programs and practices.
By training the trainer, the Project provides information, training and coaching to agricultural professionals necessary to teach farmers how to apply Soil Health Principles. The Project uses entrepreneurial farmers, agronomists, livestock producers and university researchers who are on the cutting edge of soil health practices to teach the trainers, at workshops, field days, webinars and in peer groups.
Working with Extension, NRCS/SWCD, FSA and industry leaders to target outreach, SFA’s Project, now in its third year and well evaluated, will reach out to professionals with less exposure to soil health information in underserved parts of the state or who are new to their jobs, and provide them with scholarships to attend SFA’s flagship Midwest Soil Health Summit. Scholarship recipients will then conduct a workshop, field day, webinar or meeting in their community, using model curriculums, training modules and outreach tools. Two “peer to peer” groups of producers and professionals will be launched for ongoing support. SFA will partner with the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association to include more livestock producers. Advanced soil health information will be offered to professionals who’ve already been trained.
The overall goal of SFA’s Networking for Soil Health Project is to expand the number of agricultural support professionals and educators who have the knowledge, skills and experience in the area of sustainable agriculture and improvement of soil health AND who can convey this to farmers throughout the state. A secondary goal is to increase the connections between these professionals and farmers and producers throughout the region. The overarching, long term goal of the project is to change the paradigm of agriculture wherein more farmers and ranchers employ the use of Soil Health Principles and incorporate livestock on their operations – to achieve sustainable incomes, community well being, and to protect food producing resources, air, land and water, for future generations.
This paradigm shift has begun, as evidenced by conventional agricultural groups such as the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, the MN Corn Growers, the MN Soybean Growers inclusion of soil health training and education at their conventions, meetings and publications; proven financial success of soil health practitioners and demonstration of their practices and bottom lines; and widespread discussion of soil health principles and practices in magazines ranging from Successful Farming to Graze Magazine.
SFA has a strong record of success in educating and supporting professionals to help producers to be successful economically, and to be soil health practitioners. Its Networking for Soil Health Project has been successful, and over time, has achieved changes on the landscape that need to be continued and expanded. This can only happen if its “train the trainer” program is supported. In the same way that soil needs care to be healthy and productive, so does the training and support of agricultural practitioners, achieved through the SFA project.
Near term outcomes: SFA’s Project will result in a cadre of agricultural professionals within NRCS/SWCD, Extension, FSA and other NGO ag educators who have been trained on sustainable agriculture fundamentals, and in particular, on soil health practices and research. These currently number over 55 at present, as a result of the first SFA Networking for Soil Health project.
Other near term outcomes include a series of on farm field days, workshops or webinars held by these professionals with at least 10 producers attending each, for a minimum of 300 more farmers trained and educated. The relationships that are built between and among ag professionals and producers should serve as a model to others, and be repeatable over time. The associated earned and social media and outreach will serve to increase public awareness of and acceptability of soil health and sustainable agriculture, to foster the paradigm change described above.
Another outcome will be at least one and possibly 2 “peer to peer” groups that deepen and enrich participants experience as professionals and producers, and that may be replicable in other parts o the state.
The program will also serve to expand SFA’s base and the Soil Health Network’s reach and impact, and will help leverage relationships within commodity groups and other conventional agricultural groups.
Longer term outcomes:
- An increase in the number of farmers and ranchers in Minnesota and the region who include cover crops and incorporate livestock systems on the landscape – employing the Soil Health Principles as a result of interactions, education and training with agricultural professionals in NRCS/SWCD, Extension.
- More farmers who can serve as cooperating producers in research and experiments.
- Greater profitability for producers who now face low commodity prices – resulting in a more resilient agricultural economy.
- Soil health and sustainable agricultural professionals who serve as leaders within the state and region in their ability to work with producers and transfer knowledge, experience and information on livestock systems, cover cropping and complex production regimes.
- A change in the landscape wherein more livestock systems grace the countryside, rural communities support more family farmers, and soil health principles are fully integrated.
2018 Midwest Soil Health Summit February 14-15, Fergus Falls
Held 7 Café Chats in March and early April 2018 in Lake Crystal, Mora, Paynesville, Marine on St. Croix, Hastings, Vesta and Amboy.
“Dirt Rich: Building Soil Health Experts,” Red Lake Falls and Lake Park, August 28 and 29.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Target many Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, Extension Educators, crop consultants, commodity groups, and other agricultural professionals to be trained in these 5 principles of soil health.
At the Midwest Soil Health Summit SFA’s Kent Solberg led a pre-conference session on soil health for the scholarship recipients. The goal of this session was to help the recipients learn the basics of soil health and to be prepared for the more advanced soil health concepts presented in the summit. Then, over lunch, the SFA led a discussion for the scholarship recipients on conducting a downstream event and using the SFA’s website to register their education event.
With the addition of scholarship from the previous Networking for Soil Health project, the SFA has given out 76 scholarships for agricultural professionals to attend the Midwest Soil Health Summits.
The SFA gave out 23 scholarships to agricultural professionals at the 2018 Midwest Soil Health Summit held February 14 and 15 in Fergus Falls. Scholarship recipients were represented from a wide variety of agricultural professionals: 11 SWCD staff, 1 Extension Educator, 4 Pheasant Forever staff, 2 from MN Dairy Initiative, 1 from Northwest Stockmen Association, 1 NRCS staff, 1 Crow Wing River Forage Council, 1 from MN Farmers Union, and 1 From the MN Food Association.
SFA held a series of Café Chat events in spring 2018 in seven Minnesota sites: Lake Crystal, Mora, Paynesville, Marine on St. Croix, Hastings, Vesta and Amboy. All of the Café Chats involved SWCD personnel who were scholarship recipients this year or in previous years.
These free events featured area farmers who are practicing soil health principles like cover crops, more diverse species, reduction in soil disturbance and adding livestock. During each Café Chat, the featured producers shared their soil health experience, followed by open questions and discussion.
There were 115 participants at 7 Café Chats, with about 75% of the participants being farmers and 25% agricultural service providers. The SFA plans to do another series of café chats in January and March 2019. The flyer for the Cafe Chat in Amboy is an example of how we publicized the events.
These daylong “train the trainer” events unite local and regional experts to discuss how soil health can improve farm operations and include both classroom and field segments. Events were held near Red Lake Falls and Lake Park, chosen to provide programming to under-served areas.
The events were planned in cooperation with the SWCDs from Becker, Red Lake, Pennington, Kittson, and West Polk counties, NRCS area staff, and Northwest Stockmen Association who did these as their “downstream” events. Speakers included Justin Morris, NRCS regional soil health specialist; Kent Solberg, SFA livestock & grazing specialist; and Jeff Duchene, NRCS grazing specialist. The agenda for Dirt Rich is found at: 2018.DirtRich
There were 4 trainers at both events. Training included both in field and classroom activities. There were 46 attendees at Red Lake Falls and 30 attendees at Lake Park for a combined 76 attendees at these two day-long events. Below are the attendee lists from the two events.
The sign-in sheets at the Red Lake Falls are found at: DirtRich2018Aug28
The sign-in sheets at the Park Lake Dirt Rich are at: DirtRichLakePark2018Aug29
The “downstream” soil health education events which the scholarship recipients are to conduct are designed to help move the importance of soil health to the forefront of agricultural research and discussions.
The scholarship recipients return to their communities and conduct effective soil health events for farmers and agricultural professionals expanding Minnesota’s soil health network. They target many Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, Extension Educators, crop consultants, commodity groups, and other agricultural professionals to be trained in these 5 principles of soil health. Through in-person training workshops, on-farm field days, Café Chats, and a website portal designated to soil health the agricultural professional trainees received a well-rounded education. In turn, they returned to their communities
Nineteen of this year’s 23 scholarship recipients are known to have held downstream events or were involved with other events such as the Dirt Rich: Building Soil Health Experts field days or the Café Chats. A few highlights of successful “downstream” events this year include:
- Claire LaCanne, Extension Educator in Rice County, held a soil health “downstream” event in June that also temporary featured fencing to help get livestock on the land. There were 30 attendees at this event.
- The Café Chat in Vesta was organized by Holly Hatlewick and Brian Pfarr, from Renville and Redwood SWCDs trained some 50 agency staff and farmers in early April.
- There were 4 scholarship recipients from this year and 3 from previous years involved with the “Dirt Rich: Building Soil Health Experts” in August.
- Another example of a “downstream” event is from Michigan. An NRCS employee attended the 2017 Midwest Soil Health and recently held the “downstream” event on September 20. This event had numerous sponsors and cooperators including MI NRCS, Eaton Conservation District, MSU Extension, MI Angus Association, MI Cattleman’s Association, MI Farm Bureau, and Single Tree Farm. The event had 35 participants on a hot and humid rainy day.
- A good example of cooperation between nongovernment agencies and agencies are the events that Pheasants Forever were part of. They organized 7 events with one event working with 3 conservation districts and a watershed district. In total the Pheasants Forever events had 236 participants at their 7 events.
“Peer to Peer” Groups: A new program called “peer to peer” groups has not started. This program, when implemented, will deepen and enrich the participants’ experiences as professionals and producers in soil health. The SFA will help groups get started and then leave it up to the participants to decide what operations to explore. Instead, a group of producers and ag professionals and SFA have been meeting to form a new MN Soil Health Coalition. While its future is uncertain, the nucleus of this group includes “peer to peer” participants. SFA will launch the first peer to peer group in the 2nd PDP project year.
The SFA will help groups get started and then leave it up to the participants to decide what operations to explore. Instead, a group of producers and ag professionals and SFA have been meeting to form a new MN Soil Health Coalition. While its future is uncertain, the nucleus of this group includes “peer to peer” participants. SFA will launch the first peer to peer group in the 2nd PDP project year.
The SFA will launch the first peer to peer group in the 2nd PDP project year.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Target many Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, Extension Educators, crop consultants, commodity groups, and other agricultural professionals to be trained in these 5 principles of soil health. Through in-person training workshops, on-farm field days, Café Chats, and a website portal designated to soil health the agricultural professional trainees received a well-rounded education. In turn, they returned to their communities and conduct effective soil health events for farmers and agricultural professionals expanding Minnesota’s soil health network.
A good example of cooperation between nongovernment agencies and agencies are the “downstream” events that Pheasants Forever were part of. They organized 7 events with one event working with 3 conservation districts and a watershed district. In total the Pheasants Forever events had 236 participants at their 7 events.