Organic Soil Health Education Online Course and Resources for the Southern SARE Region Farmers and Ranchers

Progress report for LS20-324

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,882.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Organic Farming Research Foundation; NCAT
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Brise Tencer
Organic Farming Research Foundation
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Project Information


The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and key partners, including the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), University of Kentucky, and Tuskegee University, propose training and outreach to farmers and ranchers in the Southern region to increase their knowledge, understanding, decision making skills, and practical application of soil health practices. By improving soil health, producers can enhance their productivity and profitability, optimize on-farm resource use efficiency, protect soil and water resources, mitigate climate change effects, and protect the health and safety of those involved in food and farm systems.

Our goal is to provide direct training based on the Soil Health and Organic Farming series of guidebooks developed during 2017-19 by OFRF and other organic research resources, which will be tailored toSouthern region climates, soils, pest pressures, and production systems. Our primary audience will be organic producers, especially minority, new, and transitioning farmers; however, the information will be applicable to all production systems.

We propose offering a live training course in conjunction with the 2021 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference to provide scientifically based practices that build soil health, and address research needs of organic farmers in the Southern U.S. Topics will include: crop rotation, cover crop selection and management, organic amendments, integrated systems of practices, nutrient cycling and management, the roles of soil organisms in nutrient cycling and plant protection, soil friendly approaches to tillage and weed management, water quality and water use efficiency in relation to soil health, and the potential role of crop cultivar genetics in supporting best soil health practices. Additional topics may be selected based on input from Southern region farmers and service providers regarding the specific soil health challenges and best practices for the region. The training course will include ample time for questions and answers, dialogue, and information exchange to point the way to effective new soil health strategies.

Participants will be surveyed to assess the value of the information presented, changes in their understanding of soil health practices, and how they intend to use knowledge gained to improve their farming or ranching operations.

OFRF will develop a Southern Region Soil Health Guidebook that will serve as the primary text for the short course. This guidebook will address the Southern region’s soil health challenges, weed and disease pressures, and producer needs and priorities.

OFRF will develop an online portal that includes recorded course segments, the guidebook, and other resources. OFRF makes all educational tools, webinars, and publications available freely online and tracks downloads and website activity to evaluate impact and use.

At the beginning of the project, OFRF will convene an Advisory Committee (AC) of farmers, ranchers, researchers, and extension professionals from across the Southern region. The AC will meet periodically to provide support on the project through feedback on the course, development of materials, facilitating aspects of the course and webinar, and ensuring relevance to Southern region producers, as well as scientific merit.

Project Objectives:

1) Provide practical and adoptable soil health information specific to the Southern region’s soils, climates, farming and ranching systems, and cultural practices.

2) Deliver scientific findings that are not readily available to producers in a format that is easily understood and applicable for on-­farm use.

3) Explain the role of soil management in building healthy soils, mitigating aspects of climate change, and protecting soil from erosion or degradation.

4) Help farmers develop an understanding of how improving soil health will lead to improved net economic returns.

5) Increase producer access to and utilization of science-based soil health information resources via and regional partner outreach sites.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • John Bell - Producer
  • Bryan Hager - Producer
  • Krista Jacobsen (Educator and Researcher)
  • Krista Jacobsen (Educator and Researcher)
  • Kokoasse Kpomblekou (Educator and Researcher)
  • Kokoasse Kpomblekou (Educator and Researcher)
  • Emily Oakley - Producer
  • Shawn Jadrnicek - Producer


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

OFRF is using virtual strategies to engage and help educate farmers.  We are using farmer experiences as the primary educator by sharing case studies, Q&A's with farmers, and getting grower input in the development of our course.  So far we developed a guidebook and a webinar.  The webinar was used as a way to identify additional soil related topics to address in our online course and second webinar.



Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: Publishing of Guidebook

Participation Summary:

645 Farmers
20 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

OFRF published Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region in March 2021. So far the guidebook has has 220 downloads and was featured in OFRF's April newsletter, which is disseminated to a list of over 14,000 farmers and stakeholders. The guidebook includes the most recent soil building research for a variety of soils typical to different regions in the South.  It also includes case studies with organic farmers all over the Southern SARE region.  The guidebook will serve as a text book to the online course which OFRF is currently designing.

OFRF presented a webinar on January 21, 2021 entitled Reducing Production Risks through Organic Soil Health Practices for the South  in partnership with eOrganics, and Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm.  There were 71 attendees on the webinar. Questions and discussion at the end of the webinar were noted and will be addressed in the online course design.  The archived version of this webinar has been viewed 690 times.

OFRF is currently developing the online course. It will go to review by the advisory committee this summer (2022) with release this fall (2022)

Learning Outcomes

45 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

43 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The resources OFRF created are full of well-researched practices that can greatly improve soil health while considering the diverse soil types in the South. Both the guidebook and first webinar have helped OFRF develop a strong foundation for the upcoming soil health course.  All of the resources are free and available online for any farmer to access. 

After our webinar we received the following email from an attendee: "You are such an inspiration to farmers, Mark!  This project is the ideal example of how farmers can receive useful, pragmatic, and digestible information that will make a real difference on their farms."

Information Products

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.