- Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture fertility, range improvement, watering systems, winter forage
- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, double cropping, multiple cropping
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, technical assistance, workshop
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
- Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: leadership development, partnerships, public participation, social networks, sustainability measures
This project titled “Networking for Soil Health” is designed to expand the number of agricultural support professionals who are able to conduct successful soil health related programs for farmers. The Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) is a leading organization in the promotion of soil health and this train the trainer program will greatly expand the network of soil health education, educators and events.
SFA’s definition of soil health is grounded in 5 Soil Health Principles: Keep the soil covered. Minimize soil disturbance. Increase crop diversity. Keep living roots in the soil. Integrate livestock.
The fifth principle, integrate livestock, makes SFA’s soil health programming unique. Livestock numbers on the landscape have really decreased in the last 50 years or so. While cover crops are not an end in themselves as some sectors in agriculture imply, they are a tool that can aid farmers moving toward improved soil health. Cover crops can also serve as a bridge to bring livestock back on the landscape. The integration of livestock, typically via cover crop grazing, can improve the economic viability of cover crop use. The value of manure for building organic matter and soil fertility is well documented.
The SFA will target many Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, Extension, crop consultants, and other agricultural professionals to be trained in these 5 principles of soil health. Through in-person training workshops, on-farm field days and a website portal designated to soil health the agricultural professional trainees will receive a well-rounded education. In turn, they can return to their communities and conduct effective soil health events for farmers and agricultural professionals expanding Minnesota’s soil health network.
- Train the Trainer Events and Scholarships:
The target budget for scholarships given to agricultural professionals to attend the Train the Trainer events is $15,000 over the two year project. We estimated that 30 agricultural professionals would attend an event and be trained in the 5 principles of soil health. We are conducting Train the Trainer events through the Midwest Soil Health Summit and workshop/field day events.
- Build the Soil Health Network Database:
The SFA maintains a network database of people that are interested in soil health. This network consists of agricultural service providers, educators, and producers that are working in soil health or have attended a soil health educational event. This database can be shared with others to help spread the word about the benefits of soil health.
Participants at a soil health education event that use the SFA’s soil health portal automatically are entered into the soil health network database.
- Soil Health Web Portal:
The SFA has developed a website designated to soil health at: http://www.sfa-mn.org/soil/. This web portal will serve as the “go to place” for information about soil health. Objectives 4 and 5 of this project are part of the soil health portal. The web address for the portal is: sfa-mn.org/soil/
The portal serves as the communications hub for all things soil health. The checklist for hosts to use for planning and conducting a soil health education event and a form to be used for registering attendees at events are also part of the soil health portal.
The site has an Events Calendar where Soil Health Network members can post soil health education events.
The portal also has a Resource Library at: This site has a form that event hosts can use to plan their soil health education event. There also is a form for hosts to use to sign-in attendees. Numerous videos have been taken at events and are shown on the SFA’s YouTube channel. Numerous presentations on soil health are also located on the Resource Library portal.
The portal also has an Events Archive which houses many soil health and grazing events. Both summaries and videos of events are listed.
- Checklist to Help Conduct a Soil Health Event:
The SFA provides a template to help soil health education hosts conduct successful events. This template is on the soil health portal in the Resource Library.
- Webinars on Soil Health:
The goal is to conduct 2 soil health education webinars over the 2-year period the project. The SFA staff also take videos at workshops and field days. These videos are placed on the SFA soil health portal.