Montana's Soil Health Network: Deepening the Roots in Four Regions

Project Overview

Project Type: Local Ed & Demo (formerly RGR)
Funds awarded in 2021: $51,223.00
Projected End Date: 12/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G356-21-W7906
Grant Recipient: Northern Plains Resource Council
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Maggie Gordon
Northern Plains Resource Council
Caroline Canarios
Northern Plains Resource Council
Stephen Charter
Charter Beef


  • Animals: bovine, poultry, sheep, swine
  • Animal Products: eggs, meat


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, farmers' markets/farm stands, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Northern Plains Resource Council will promote soil stewardship and profitable sustainable farming and ranching methods by hosting four site-specific workshops, or “soil crawls” in Montana. These soil crawls will be located in Conrad, Helena, Big Timber, and Forsyth.

    Northern Plains’ team of farmers, ranchers, scientists, and consumers will seek feedback and input from local agricultural professionals (Conservation Districts, NRCS staff, and agriculture teachers) to develop and attend each soil crawl. This full team will then host a follow-up meeting with attendees of the soil crawl for discussions on progress among attendees and a presentation on SARE research relevant to the soil crawl topics. Ultimately, we want to develop WSARE proposals for producers in each region to try a SARE concept on their operation.

    Soil crawls offer the participants a chance to examine soils from different regions, management styles, and land histories.  Participants will learn how different methods like composting, intensive grazing, or no-till seeding can benefit their operations. They will have the opportunity to talk soil health with professionals and other practitioners, have time to revisit what they learned a few months after the event, and possibly try an experiment of their own.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Identify a solid baseline of soil knowledge in four regions of Montana. In order to achieve this objective, we plan to survey producers in four  regions of the state. We will survey attendees prior to each soil crawl to understand the local knowledge of soil health. This will allow us to understand where we are starting, and what we wish to pass on to our soil crawl participants.
    2. Expand the soil health knowledge of Montana producers through the soil crawls. The soil crawls will target farmers, ranchers, students, local agriculture professionals, and consumers. Participants will learn the five principles of soil health, ways to measure soil health, and how to improve the quality of their soil with tools they may already own. They will have access to experienced agriculture professionals, and other producers to answer any questions.
    3. Build a network based on the knowledge we have gained. By hosting at least one follow-up meeting for every soil crawl we host, we will be able to retain interested participants and evaluate whether they feel empowered to make practical changes to their soil. This will also help participants reinforce the connections they may have made with each other during the soil crawl events.
    4. Explore SARE experiments on Montana operations. Following each of the soil crawls we will present past SARE projects and find one producer or group of producers in each region who wants to try a SARE experiment on their operation. We will work as a team to help them pursue funding to complete this research.
    5. Build a repository of information so that no new contributions are lost. We will do this by building a library of information housed on Northern Plains’ website including an archive of videos, including recordings from Northern Plains’ soil events and any media from soil crawls.
    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.