Southern Region SARE Professional Development Grant -- The Road to Soil Health

Progress report for ES19-145

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $59,442.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Noble Research Institute
Region: Southern
State: Oklahoma
Principal Investigator:
Amy Hays
Noble Research Institute, LLC
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project focuses on helping professionals build their capacity to work with producers by following a “road to soil health” in which the training locations are a mix of both the science of soil health and the application on real farms and ranches in different production enterprises. Each stop on the road provides training on the science, economics, macro and micro environments, animal/plant interactions, and best management practices that can be incorporated into production systems in the Southern Great Plains.

This proposal is designed to provide training to agriculture professionals, educators, and others who serve producers in the Southern Great Plains. Professional development through “intensives” will offer: 1. science-based management guidelines for improving soil health; 2. on-farm demonstration on how practices are implemented at scale; 3. creation of mentor-networking opportunities that encourage implementation of practices through peer support at the regional level. Outcomes are expected to be: a. increased ability to create and deploy local programming; b. producer-designed support that impacts more acres that are adopting beneficial soil-health practices; and c. assessment of Oklahoma soil health readiness in production agriculture enterprises. Mentor farmers known as “strategic producers” will plan a critical role advising and developing program protocols that are related to improving soil health through practical applied strategies implemented on successful farm and ranch systems. Target audiences include: the USDA/NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Oklahoma State Agencies, OSU Extension, private organizations, the Choctaw Nation, and the Chickasaw Nation.

Project Objectives:

Professional development through “intensives” will offer: 1. science-based management guidelines for improving soil health; 2. on-farm demonstration on how practices are implemented at scale; 3. creation of mentor-networking opportunities that encourage implementation of practices through peer support at the regional level.

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

The educational approached used in this grant follows the EPA Environmental Education Continiuum as the basis for scafolded learning.  There are  seven elements in the appraoch: awareness, knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making, action, and finally stewardship.  This grant is desigened to guild professionals as they work with producers to acheive soil health outcomes based on the context of production systems in the southern great plains.  The professionals are exposed to 5 of the 7 elements that they would be working with producers on.  

  • Awareness:  the science workshops and field tours build awareness of soil health measurements, principles, and practices
  • Knowledge: professionals increase their knowledge of techniques, tools, and practices by peer networking, exposure to ranching operations, and guidance from outside researchers and professionals 
  • Critical thinking: mentor farmers and ranchers work with professionals on understanding how soil health principles and practices are implemented on sucessful working ranches that have soil health goals in different production practices
  • Problem solving: professionals learn from and network with local mentor farmes and ranchers and other producers at field tours in order to build capacity to work on regional or operational problems 
  • Decision-making: professionals are able to look at mentor farmer and rancher records to evaluate and understand the decision process and decision points for producers in different production systems.

The educational expereince focus heavily on peer networking and exposure to mentor farmer and ranches as well as regionally relevant farmers and ranchers.  Additional science-based partnerships with OSU and ECU provide access to experts and new science to build professional capacities to integrate and implement relevant science.  

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Road to Soil Health - Advancing Science Principles in Soil Health
Objective:

This stop is designed to cover more advanced science principles that drive soil health practices.
Scientists from Noble Research Institute, Oka’ Water Institute at ECU, Oklahoma State University and
other invited scientists will share an in-depth look at how we currently measure, monitor, and
investigate the practical science applications of management practices in soil health. You will learn
about available tests for soil health measures, and participate in question-and-answer sessions with
mentor farmers and ranchers about how they implement practices in their operations. The goal of this
stop is to increase your science-based knowledge about advanced soil health practices, measurements,
and principles, and to get hands-on experiences with some potential tests. In addition, we will look at
ways to collect citizen-science measures for soil health that can be shared collectively to increase our
knowledge of soil health practices in Oklahoma.

Description:

This workshop covers advanced science principles that drive soil health practices.
Scientists from Noble Research Institute, Oka’ Water Institute at ECU, Oklahoma State University and
other invited scientists will share an in-depth look at how we currently measure, monitor, and
investigate the practical science applications of management practices in soil health. Professional will learn
about available tests for soil health measures, and participate in question-and-answer sessions with
mentor farmers and ranchers about how they implement practices in their operations. The goal of this
workshop is to increase  science-based knowledge about advanced soil health practices, measurements,
and principles, and to get hands-on experiences with some potential tests. In addition, we will look at
ways to collect citizen-science measures for soil health that can be shared collectively to increase our
knowledge of soil health practices in Oklahoma.

Outcomes and impacts:
  1.  Participants discussed and explored various ways that soil health is measured nationally, and locally.  This allowed participants to compare common techniques and be introduced to some that they were not familiar with.   Soil health professionals from federal agencies, climate hubs, state agencies, and organizations shared their metrics
  2. Particpants were able to utilize and test kits made available on Loan from Texas Instruments that contained soil health toolkits.  TI-Inspire (https://education.ti.com/en/products/data-collection/single-sensor-data-collection-for-ti-nspire-graphing-handhelds) were part of the training.
  3. Three mentor farmers and ranchers presented their soil health strategies to participants and worked with participants in how they were applying principles and what producers needed in assistance and technical guidance.

 

Road To Soil Health Field Tour
Objective:

Field tours are designed to provide hands on assessment, training, and networking on specific sites where a producer is implementing soil health practices within a production system. These tours include resource professionals who are gaining perfessional expeience and mentor farmers and ranchers who are teaching and sharing their operating principles with professionals.

Description:

Field tours share common elements

  1. Study of the micorbiology through a training demonstration of Soil Your Undies 
  2. Multipe site locations across the property (and surrounding properties) to compare conventional and soil health production practices
  3. Involvement of local mentor farmers and ranchers who specialize in the production system at the stop
  4. Assessement of regionally specific soil health principles
Outcomes and impacts:

Soil Health for Water Principes (field tour) – this field tour looked at the impacts of prescribed fire on soil health in a native grazing system.  Fire was used to remove invasive species and to improve the water cycle of the area. The mentor farmer/rancher at this site described his process of implementing fire into the system and the series of grazing management decisions he was implementing to restore the water cycle.  Evidence of restored systems included biotic diversity, increased flow from seeps and natural water wells, and plant succession including c4 species. 

Outcomes: Producers in this region from LAWA (Lake of the Arbuckles Watershed Association) attended the field tour and met local and regional professionals who wanted to begin working with the Association on grazing management plans and prescribed fire plans for the watershed.   

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

11 NRCS
3 Researchers
15 Nonprofit
7 Agency
1 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
9 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

61 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
25 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

2019

 

2020

Producers who are part of the Road to Soil Health presented at the 2020 Oka Institute Virtual Symposium about their Road to Soil Health.  The symposium had over 400 participants and over 100 attended this virtual session.  The session was designed to give basic information about how producers are focusing on soil health as an outcome on their ranches.  

Oka Institute produced a stand alone Q&A session with the Oklahoma Aldo Leopold Conservaton Winners to answer questions about their expereinces in adapting their conventional practices to more regenerative practices where the goal was improving soil health. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.