The Soil Health Stewards: Establishing a Producer-Driven Soil Health Research Network in Northeastern Washington

Project Overview

RGR20-005
Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2020: $70,583.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G358-20-W7906
Grant Recipients: Stevens County Conservation District; Pend Oreille Conservation District; Ferry Conservation District; Washington State University Extension, Stevens County; Washington State Department of Agriculture
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Alex Case-Cohen
Pend Oreille Conservation District
Co-Investigators:
Jeanne Bateman
Stevens County Conservation District
Dave Hedrick
Ferry Conservation District
Dean Hellie
Stevens County Conservation District
Nils Johnson
Washington State University Extension
Charlie Kessler
Stevens County Conservation District
David Marcell
Pend Oreille Conservation District
Leslie Michel
Washington State Department of Agriculture

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), hay, medics/alfalfa, oats, wheat
  • Animals: bovine, equine, goats, poultry, sheep, swine

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture renovation, pasture fertility, rangeland/pasture management, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, fertilizers, no-till, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The Northeastern Washington Soil Health Stewards (SHS) group is a newly-established network of local producers interested in learning more about soil health, conducting previously-funded SARE research projects, and increasing the adoption of practices that have been shown to improve soil health. Funding from the Research to Grassroots Grant will assist ten landowners in implementing previously-funded research projects on a site and context-specific scale in order to determine whether or not these practices are suitable for the region.

    In order to increase understanding and awareness of the importance of soil health in the region, the group will hold ten group meetings where producers can engage with other like-minded individuals, learn from experienced local growers and ag professionals, and receive feedback and support for their research projects.  The group expects to grow from 10 to 30 participants over the duration of the grant.  

    Ten research projects will be implemented through the Research to Grassroots Grant.  All of these researchers will be farmers who are members of the SHS group.  Five of these individuals will be given funds for research implementation, including supplies (seed, amendments, equipment rentals, and other purchases) and costs for conducting soil tests.  Members who conduct research will report to the group in order to receive feedback and support from the group. 

    Workshops will be held on an annual basis that will be open to the public.  These events will showcase research projects; host prominent local, regional and national speakers; and will provide other demonstrations that show local growers and the public the benefits of improving soil health.  We expect attendance to these events to increase from 30 to nearly 100 participants by the end of the funding cycle.

    In summary, conservation district staff anticipate that this grant will enable local growers to increase their soil health knowledge and understanding, thereby improving the region's soil health.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Establish a baseline for soil health (knowledge) in the region
    • All participants of the Soil Health Stewards group will complete a pre-survey to determine their current knowledge and to ask questions they may have concerning soil health. To determine a baseline for soil health, all research participants will conduct soil health and fertility testing before they implement new practices.
    1. Increase farmers' knowledge and acceptance of new soil health practices through experiential learning.
    • Participants of the Northeastern Washington Soil Health Stewards (SHS) group will receive technical assistance and networking opportunities to learn more about previously-funded SARE projects and will apply them to the Northeastern Washington area.
    • Group meetings and workshops will answer producers’ questions related to soil and plant health. Experienced local growers or technical assistance providers from other agencies (Washington State University, Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Western Cover Crop Council, and others) will provide expertise during workshops.  Farmers will gain education and experience from a multitude of experience growers, ag professionals, and scientists, thereby improving their soil health knowledge.
    • Conducting at least 10 research projects with trusted ag professionals a peers will provide producers the experience, technical support, and social capital they need to verify they adopt new soil health practices.
    1. Improve soil health (knowledge) throughout the Northeastern Washington region
    • It is crucial for the successful adoption of soil health practices to reach out to at least half of the ag producers in the Northeast Washington region.  By the end of the funding cycle, we will: increase SHS group membership from 10 to 30 participants; increase workshop attendance from 30 to 100 attendants; double the use of soil health practices (cover crops, rotational grazing, no-till pasture management, etc.) in the region compared to historic levels of implementation; and increase farmers' knowledge and acceptance of new soil health practices through experiential learning.
    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.