Improving Soil Health by Educating Outreach Professionals in Washington State

Progress report for ESP20-001

Project Type: Enhanced State Grants
Funds awarded in 2020: $23,031.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Chad Kruger
Washington State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Soil health is increasingly of interest to Washington’s producers, food processors, policy makers, and the general public– as evidenced by the State Legislature’s establishment of the “Washington Soil Health Initiative” in 2019. This initiative will fund research and demonstration of soil health best management practices through a network of long-term agroecological research and extension (LTARE) sites across Washington state’s diverse agricultural systems, as well as a baseline assessment of soil health across the diverse soils, climate, and agricultural systems in Washington. Meanwhile, a regional conference held in 2019 “Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities,” provided some initial training on soil health for regional ag educators, but also provided evidence of a desire for continuing and more in-depth training opportunities to improve the capacity of agricultural professionals in Washington State to respond to inquiries related to soil health.

This project will deliver soil health related information via in-person conferences, in-person/online seminars and discussions, and through direct producer-to-producer tours. The result will be increased knowledge of soil health practices, assessment tools, and implications of practices that degrade soil health as well an increased capacity for agricultural professionals to support producers. Subsequently, producers will increase adoption of practices that maintain or improve soil health.

Project Objectives:

This proposal has three main objectives. First is to increase the knowledge of soil health principles and practices by agricultural professionals and producers. More specifically, knowledge increases will relate to definitions of soil health, factors that positively and negatively impact soil health, the current state of scientific understanding of soil health, and methods to asses soil health. Second is to improve the awareness of soil health. The audience for this objective includes agricultural professionals and producers, but also the environmental constituent and the general public. Last is to improve the technical capacity of agricultural professionals and producers regarding soil health. 

Introduction:

In 2015, the United Nations declared it the International Year of Soils to raise awareness worldwide of the importance that soils play in food security (FAO, 2013). Since 2001, 14 states have passed soil health initiatives to increase adoption of practices that create healthy soils (Lehner and Henderson, 2019). In 2019, Washington joined these states when the Legislature passed the Soil Health Initiative, an ambitious plan that funds initial investments in a statewide network of long-term agroecological research and extension (LTARE) sites across Washington state’s diverse agricultural systems. There is growing awareness amongst producers and the general public of the impact that soil health has on food production, food quality, and environment.

Washington State agricultural goods are valued at over $10 billion that are produced on roughly 14 million acres (USDA NASS, 2018). Additionally, over 300 different commodities are produced within Washington and the state is the number one producer in nine different categories nationally (USDA NASS, 2018). Washington State is climatically diverse with farming that occurs in regions that receive as little as 4 inches of precipitation to as much as 100 inches annually (Yorgey and Kruger, 2017). Management practices that maintain or improve soil health are intrinsically related to the individual cropping system, climate, and scale of the system (Soil Health Institute, 2017). Because of Washington’s diverse climate and commodities, the state’s agricultural systems are particularly in need of tailored soil health outreach.    

In March of 2019, a regional event in Pendleton, Oregon documented Pacific Northwest soil health needs and was attended by over 150 stakeholders representing agricultural professionals and others (Saari et al., 2019). Participants stated that they would like to see “enhance[d] communication across sectors and jurisdictional boundaries to keep stakeholders trained and informed” and to “collect, utilize and share information and demonstrate progress” (Saari et al., 2019). More specifically, participants stated they wanted “annual state/regional meetings and group meetings” covering soil health as well as “understanding [the] farmer knowledge base and the potential power of farmer-to-farmer learning sessions” (Saari et al., 2019). This underscores the importance of and desire for the activities outlined in this proposal.

Currently, the understanding of soil health principles and practices are still in the early stage of development in this region. This is the result of several reasons including: the diversity of climates and production systems in the region, historic lack of University research personnel, and the inability to directly transfer knowledge from other regions that have a better understanding of soil health. Recently, several key University research and extension hires have filled the gaps that have added the much-needed capacity to progress knowledge and impact agricultural practices.   

Education

Educational approach:

The approach used in this project is a live conference format, including hybridized on-line and in person activities.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Online trainings
30 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

537 Others

Project Outcomes

Additional Outcomes:

COVID-19 delayed the completion of the contract for this project, but our team has been actively planning the first annual SoilCon: Washington Soil Health Week, which will take place February 8 – 12, 2021. COVID required us to change our plan to host this event on-line rather than in person, but we’ve taken advantage of this opportunity to invite key speakers from all over the world. We have 537 participants registered for the event.

Success stories:

None to report at this time.

Recommendations:

None to report at this time.

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

We have used SARE logos as part of the advanced promotion for SoilCon and will be utilizing SARE information during the event. 

537 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
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.