Networking for Soil Health

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Sustainable Farming Association
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Wayne Monsen
Sustainable Farming Association
Kent Solberg
Sustainable Farming Association

Annual Reports

Information Products

Cover Crops (Conference/Presentation Material)


Not commodity specific


  • 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

    Proposal abstract:

    This project creates new “train the trainer” outputs and extends the work the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) is doing in the area of soil health and cover crop education agriculture support professionals. Some of our outputs in this project are stand alone related to training trainers. This stand alone professional development content is funded by the SARE - PDP funds. Some events are held in conjunction with, or parallel to existing projects. In these cases, the existing projects themselves are not funded by PDP funds, but the expenses related to the extension of those projects to our target audience is funded by PDP funds. SFAs 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. NRCS does not include livestock integration as a part of their definition of soil health practices. Cover crops are a tool that can aid farmers moving toward improved soil health and can serve as a bridge to bring livestock back on the landscape, but are not an end in themselves. The integration of livestock, typically via cover crop grazing, improves the economic viability of cover crop use. The value of incorporated manure for building organic matter and soil fertility is well documented. The need for this project is understood; particularly given SAREs partnership with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to extend the resources available for soil health and cover crop related proposals specifically. Additionally, a member of the University of Minnesota’s Cooperative Extension Leadership team commented at the most recent Midwest Soil Health Summit (MSHS) that they’d “really like to see more Extension people here.” Therefore, SFA is seeking to extend the work and effectiveness of MSHS and other soil health and cover crop related activities to strengthen the understanding of agriculture support professionals in these areas and ultimately better serve farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    These training events proposed here are open to all agriculture support professionals, but our specific target audience consists of 30 agricultural professionals: 10 NRCS/SWCD technical personnel representing each of the NRCS Regions in MN, 10 Extension Educators in MN, 3 Organic Valley Crop Consultants, 5 Independent Crop Consultants, and 2 industry personnel. Our goal is to leverage popular events we are already producing and extend the activities associated with those events to focus on the targeted audience of ag support professionals. We will host a Train the Trainer pre-conference workshop at the 2016 and 2017 Midwest Soil Health Summits. This workshop will target all types agriculture support professionals. We will offer scholarships to the first 15 ag support professionals who agree to conduct at least one additional soil health related educational workshop in the next 12 months with SFA support. We currently have a menu of options in producer-basedsoil health training, including: Keep Cattle in MN workshops, Webinars focusing on soil health, Cover Crop Demonstrations, and Field Days. These projects are up and running. We will not be using any SARE PDP funds to develop or deliver these workshops. We will use these workshops as examples for other agriculture support professionals to pick from to conduct in their own regions with SFA support. We will also support agriculture support professionals who seek to develop their own downstream training events. In agreeing to the scholarship, participants agree to comply with SFAs evaluation and monitoring of the impact of this training and these downstream programs. Participants will receive an introduction on becoming part of SFAs Soil Health Network, and how to promote their events through SFA and associated channels. Jay Fuhrer, from North Dakota NRCS will provide an in-depth overview of the 5 Principles of Soil Health and discuss the model used to encourage a large number of Burleigh Co., ND to adopting soil health principles into their operations. Dr. Allen Williams will provide details on livestock integration for soil health including on-going research and case studies from MN, IA and WI. Dr. Scott Wells will present recent data from cover crop research in MN. Rick Haney will provide an overview of soil health monitoring. Substantial moderated Q & A time will be allotted to stimulate questions and discussion via a panel of the above listed speakers. Attendance will be limited to agriculture support professionals. Based on our farmer to farmer networking experiences, we feel this will stimulate extensive in-depth discussion and facilitate comprehensive understanding of the integration of complex cover crop blends and livestock that may not materialize during general sessions that includes producers. We will host a special Train the Trainer Field day for NRCS/SWCD personnel only in September 2016 and September 2017. Field days will be held on farms utilizing complex cover crop blends and integrating livestock. Presentations will include how the cover crop blend was determined for the site, crop rotations, costs, fencing and water systems, utilization of grazing contracts, how grazing dates and stocking rates are determined, and producer perceptions to the practice. Training will be facilitated by Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock and Grazing Specialist who has extensive experience in all aspects of content for this field day. Kent’s time for this work will be provided for by funds from related projects, not SARE PDP funds. We will host a special Train the Trainer Field day for extension personnel only in September 2016 and September 2017. Field day content will be identical to #2 above. Organic Valley has held their annual consultants meeting in past years at the Midwest Soil Health Summit. We will again offer them meeting space at the Summit, and will have them attend the Train the Trainer pre-conference workshops at no charge. We will develop a Train the Trainer Webinar, and promote it to all agriculture support professionals. These will be offered live in April of 2016 and 2017, and then recorded to reside on the SFA website. The goal will be to reinforce learnings from the Midwest Soil Health Summit, as well as to build a network of educational tools, and promote upcoming events. SFA has some recent experience with webinars and from our initial work we are confident these webinars will continue in popularity. Soil Health Event Promotion: SFA is a participant in the University of MN Extension-led Soil Health Partnership. This group, which consists of several agriculture support groups including Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Soybean Growers, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center, which is made up of many organizations related to conventional and commodity-based agriculture ( SFA has offered to serve as a lead organization in promoting and communicating soil health and cover crop-related events through our website. Our hope is that by doing this, we can become a valued resource for soil health and cover crop educators in the upper midwest. The value of checklists has been well documented by Atul Gawande in, “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” Picador, 2011. We will assemble and publish a checklist for trainers to follow when assembling and conducting soil health programming. This checklist will form the foundation and basis for ongoing development of tools for soil health education. We will provide a Minnesota Soil Health and Cover Crops Event Calendar on the SFA website, to encourage partnership, collaboration among agricultural support professionals. This calendar will also assist in eliminating a common problem of double booking related events by separate organizations. SFA has already determined this minor expansion of our website will cost about $1,000, and PDP funds are included for this in the budget.

    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.