A plethora of research into soil health indicates that agricultural practices that improve soil health can increase resilience to a variety of biotic and abiotic stressors, decrease reliance on synthetic inputs, and improve long-term economic sustainability. Promising practices which have long been studied include: keep it covered; do not disturb; increase diversity; add amendments, cover cropping, and residues; and re-integrate crops and livestock. However, producer adoption remains a challenge – not because they don’t want to improve soil health, but because of real economic, logistical, and other barriers.
Additionally, producers need to see examples from others and better understand the economic implications of specific practices under their conditions before they are willing to adopt them.
Funding from this project brought together agricultural professionals and key producers from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, with an overarching goal to give those who provide information to farmers a toolbox to support the adoption of soil health practices. Attendees at the summit included researchers who provided the most recent soil health insights and trained professionals to use existing decision support tools. Producers presented at the summit with important on-the-ground insights. Attendees engaged in demonstrations, and dialog on the challenges, opportunities, and paths towards increased adoption of soil health practices. Information gathered during facilitated discussions has been synthesized and will be available to regional leadership to support and coordinate broader state-level efforts. Additionally, a toolbox of materials is available to attendees; these will provide links and instructions on focused tools provided at the workshop.
Our project built on an existing collaborative regional process that indicated that moving forward soil health issues is a priority. Before the summit, a survey provided additional insight on attitudes toward soil health research, services, and policies. The survey informed facilitated conversations for the summit.
Our objectives are to:
• Improve awareness of existing, new, and evolving regional soil health practices and projects to foster learning relating to innovative strategies that can be promoted and utilized by agriculture professionals.
• Provide hands-on training on soil health practices, and familiarity with tools that can be used to support producer decision making related to soil health.
• Improve understanding of the practical barriers to improving soil health and resources and opportunities for moving past those barriers.
• Create a forum for state leaders to improve consensus about needs, priorities, and funding opportunities for collaborative regional efforts for the next five years around soil health.
The 2019 Soil Health Workshop was be a three-day regional event which comprised of the following components: training sessions, workshops & demonstrations, and facilitated discussions. Within these approaches the following were conducted:Printer Version Workshop Program Version Final
Training Sessions—Training sessions were provided to attendees via keynote speaker, producer panel, and poster session which highlighted successful and innovative soil health practices around the region. The training sessions provided basis for later discussions based on producers’ on-the-ground the reality, and provide examples throughout the summit. Focus for training sessions was on projects and practices that provide professionals with key understanding of how to aid producers in adoption of soil health practices while upholding economic, environment, and social aspects of sustainability.
Workshops – Focused workshop sessions provided participants with knowledge about the carbon and nitrogen cycle, compaction, organic matter, climate tools, participatory soil health, soil biology, and cover crops. Additionally, a ‘Tools Cafe’ was a hands on experience with tools that can be utilized in their work, such as: field day demonstration tools (i.e. slaking test, rain on soil cover, etc), software and tools training and demonstration, and economic tools for management.Final Poster Session Agenda
Farm Tour & Demonstrations–An offsite tour of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton Oregon was cancelled due to inclement weather, so all workshop stations were held indoors at the conference center. Participants learned about the long term soil health trials at the research station and participated in sessions relating to current standardized methods for soil sampling, soil health assessment in the field as well as using Web Soil Survey, talking with producers, and reading a soil pit.Final Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center_agenda
Facilitated discussion–Facilitated discussions provided opportunity for participants to engage in high level brainstorming and discussion. These sessions helped assess gaps and needs for research, extension, and technical service providers. The assessment is the first step in a coordinated state and regional effort related to soil health. During these session facilitators helped attendees discuss and provide an assessment of existing and needed resources, funding opportunities moving forward, and how each state can participate.Summary vision and priorities
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Educate 151 agricultural professionals, farmers, and leaders in Oregon, Washington and Idaho
This project engaged professionals across public and private sectors. Improved awareness of existing, new, and evolving regional soil health practices and projects, and foster learning related to innovative strategies that can be promoted and utilized by agriculture professionals.
Increased the knowledge and awareness of participants on soil health, available resources, and specific existing and upcoming regional efforts.
Provided a soil health toolbox of resources and contacts within the region in the form of a conference resource manual that enabled participants to increase their ability to provide network with other professionals and provide soil health outreach to producers and other stakeholders.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Though the majority of the 151 participants in the two-and-a-half day event were from Washington, Oregon, or Idaho, they also included participants from Montana, California, Utah, and Washington D.C. The workshop was open to a diverse set of stakeholders but was designed, especially with the needs of agricultural professionals in mind. Accordingly, the affiliations that were represented the most among participants were university (extension and research), NRCS, conservation districts, and private. Participants worked in diverse production systems from the region, with many people working across multiple production systems.
At the workshop, twenty-four presenters shared knowledge on a variety of soil health-related topics in both full group and breakout sessions. Pipa Elias, Soil Health Strategy Manager at the Nature Conservancy, gave the keynote address. Presenters in the poster sessions (17), lightning presentations (9), and tools café (4) shared regional work related to soil health with participants. Facilitated sessions were held to continue to identify regional soil health priorities and strategize about how to move forward on them. Four innovative producers from a diversity of farm types discussed the management of soil health in their operations. The keynote address and several of the breakout sessions and discussions incorporated topics of drought and climate resilience . See the event agenda for more detail.
When asked on the evaluations Workshop summary whether they learned the information they had hoped to learn during the event, 64% of participants responded “yes” while 39% of participants responded “somewhat.” Participants indicated that the most valuable new information learned during the event included the updates in soil health testing, making regional connections, information on soil and root development, and information on dryland cover crops. Participants were inspired to make several changes as a result of this event, including: learn more about soil health, talk with producers about soil health, utilize cover crops, hold field days and step up their collaborations.
A committee consisting of members from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington organized the event. Funding for the event was from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), with additional funding from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and numerous other sponsors and supporters. (See the full list here). The attendance of 13 workshop participants was made possible through funding from the Western SARE Professional Development Program, or student scholarships.