Soil Health Nexus: Strengthening Soil Health Programs for Educators and Farmers/Ranchers in the North Central Region

Project Overview

ENC20-189
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University Extension
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Christina Curell
Michigan State University Extension

Commodities

No commodities identified

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

The North Central Region Soil Health Nexus is a university-led team dedicated to increasing access to research-based soil health knowledge, extension educational programming and resources. Equipping agricultural educators - including extension, agribusiness, and partner agencies and groups - to teach soil health practices to farmers and ranchers is one of the key focuses of the Nexus.

We are proposing to increase agricultural educators’ ability to teach soil health and soil health practices to farmers and ranchers across the North Central Region. Nexus members will host six state train-the-trainer trainings throughout the region utilizing the resources, research, and instructional material found on the Soil Health Nexus website.  We will host two in-services for Soil Health Nexus members for training and collaboration. Our goal is to reach at least 350 educators in total.

The Soil Health Nexus has a robust digital toolbox of soil health teaching resources on our team website. Updating and adding new soil health resources, including multimedia tools such as videos, which are valuable tools for educators, is a priority for the team. Through this proposal, we will develop a state-specific interactive soil health matrix for agricultural educators. The matrix will help farmers choose and compare different soil health practices, from an environmental and economical perspective, that they can best implement on their farm. This proposal will develop a template matrix for the North Central Region as well as pilot the matrix in two North Central states with differing agricultural and ecological resources

Project objectives from proposal:

We will continue to broaden our ability to instruct farmers and ranchers on how to maintain and enhance their soil health by editing existing and developing new instructional materials to the Soil Health Nexus digital toolbox. The toolbox will serve as the foundation for the materials and resources that we will use for the state-based trainings. In addition, we will develop a soil health matrix and two state-based matrices to the digital toolbox. The matrices will help farmers and ranchers prioritize the soil health practices they can implement on their land with regard to ecological and financial impacts.

Regional in-services for Soil Health Nexus members will be held annually. These in-services will increase collaboration of research and extension programming and familiarize educators with soil health demonstrations focusing on protecting water quality, climate, and farm sustainability.   Current research on soil health will be showcased as well as tools that can be used to teach soil health. Participants, roughly 50 educators from throughout the North Central Region, will learn hands-on teaching techniques they can use in their programming within their respective state.

State soil health training will also be conducted. We will train at least 300 educators in total, through three trainings per year with 50 participants at each.  The trainings will help attendees integrate hands-on soil demonstrations into their programming.  We will use the materials from the digital soil health toolbox and new materials developed through the regional in-services in these trainings. These trainings will be largely state specific, however, we will encourage states with similar soil type, agronomic systems, and climates to work together to broaden their reach. The participants from the state training will use the soil health tools learned in their programming. Farmers who attend these trainings will be encouraged to consider implementing new practices on their operations that positively influence soil health, water quality and the climate. This approach will ultimately lead to more farms that are more resilient to climate variabilities.

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.