The Sustainable Farming Association’s Networking for Soil Health Project is a community-based educational and outreach program, dedicated to increasing skills, knowledge and experience of USDA-NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Ag Extension professionals, ag industry personnel, educators and crop consultants to conduct effective soil health-related and sustainability programs for farmers. The Project enables professionals to assist and educate farmers on soil health-related programs and practices.
By training the trainer, the Project provides information, training and coaching to agricultural professionals necessary to teach farmers how to apply Soil Health Principles. The Project uses entrepreneurial farmers, agronomists, livestock producers and university researchers who are on the cutting edge of soil health practices to teach the trainers, at workshops, field days, webinars and in peer groups.
Working with Extension, NRCS/SWCD, FSA and industry leaders to target outreach, SFA’s Project, now in its third year and well evaluated, will reach out to professionals with less exposure to soil health information in underserved parts of the state or who are new to their jobs, and provide them with scholarships to attend SFA’s flagship Midwest Soil Health Summit. Scholarship recipients will then conduct a workshop, field day, webinar or meeting in their community, using model curriculums, training modules and outreach tools. Two “peer to peer” groups of producers and professionals will be launched for ongoing support. SFA will partner with the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association to include more livestock producers. Advanced soil health information will be offered to professionals who’ve already been trained.
Project objectives from proposal:
The overall goal of SFA’s Networking for Soil Health Project is to expand the number of agricultural support professionals and educators who have the knowledge, skills and experience in the area of sustainable agriculture and improvement of soil health AND who can convey this to farmers throughout the state. A secondary goal is to increase the connections between these professionals and farmers and producers throughout the region. The overarching, long term goal of the project is to change the paradigm of agriculture wherein more farmers and ranchers employ the use of Soil Health Principles and incorporate livestock on their operations – to achieve sustainable incomes, community well being, and to protect food producing resources, air, land and water, for future generations.
This paradigm shift has begun, as evidenced by conventional agricultural groups such as the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, the MN Corn Growers, the MN Soybean Growers inclusion of soil health training and education at their conventions, meetings and publications; proven financial success of soil health practitioners and demonstration of their practices and bottom lines; and widespread discussion of soil health principles and practices in magazines ranging from Successful Farming to Graze Magazine.
SFA has a strong record of success in educating and supporting professionals to help producers to be successful economically, and to be soil health practitioners. Its Networking for Soil Health Project has been successful, and over time, has achieved changes on the landscape that need to be continued and expanded. This can only happen if its “train the trainer” program is supported. In the same way that soil needs care to be healthy and productive, so does the training and support of agricultural practitioners, achieved through the SFA project.
Near term outcomes: SFA’s Project will result in a cadre of agricultural professionals within NRCS/SWCD, Extension, FSA and other NGO ag educators who have been trained on sustainable agriculture fundamentals, and in particular, on soil health practices and research. These currently number over 55 at present, as a result of the first SFA Networking for Soil Health project.
Other near term outcomes include a series of on farm field days, workshops or webinars held by these professionals with at least 10 producers attending each, for a minimum of 300 more farmers trained and educated. The relationships that are built between and among ag professionals and producers should serve as a model to others, and be repeatable over time. The associated earned and social media and outreach will serve to increase public awareness of and acceptability of soil health and sustainable agriculture, to foster the paradigm change described above.
Another outcome will be at least one and possibly 2 “peer to peer” groups that deepen and enrich participants experience as professionals and producers, and that may be replicable in other parts o the state.
The program will also serve to expand SFA’s base and the Soil Health Network’s reach and impact, and will help leverage relationships within commodity groups and other conventional agricultural groups.
Longer term outcomes:
- An increase in the number of farmers and ranchers in Minnesota and the region who include cover crops and incorporate livestock systems on the landscape – employing the Soil Health Principles as a result of interactions, education and training with agricultural professionals in NRCS/SWCD, Extension.
- More farmers who can serve as cooperating producers in research and experiments.
- Greater profitability for producers who now face low commodity prices – resulting in a more resilient agricultural economy.
- Soil health and sustainable agricultural professionals who serve as leaders within the state and region in their ability to work with producers and transfer knowledge, experience and information on livestock systems, cover cropping and complex production regimes.
- A change in the landscape wherein more livestock systems grace the countryside, rural communities support more family farmers, and soil health principles are fully integrated.