Digging In

SHP Staff

Total posts: 33
Last post: April 2, 2020 06:18

SHP and TFI publish Nutrient Management profiles

By SHP Staff on  April 2, 2020 06:18
SHP and TFI publish Nutrient Management profiles

Properly managed nutrients and soil health can provide economic and environmental benefits; however, cropping systems are complex. Nutrient management decisions must align with soil health management decisions for optimal results. 4R Nutrient Stewardship provides a framework to achieve cropping system goals, such as increased production, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection, and improved sustainability. 

The two profiles discuss mobile macronutrients and immobile macronutrients. 

Profile: Immobile Macronutrients - Phosphorus and Potassium

Potassium helps strengthen the plant’s ability to resist disease and plays an important role in increasing crop yields and overall quality, including strengthening the plant’s root system. Phosphorus is linked to a plant's ability to use and store energy, being necessary for overall growth and normal development. Phosphorus and potassium nutrients are typically lost through surface water, washing away the fertilizer source or erosion.

This profile highlights two U.S. farmers who incorporate 4R practices into their soil health management system to keep the phosphorus and potassium they apply in the soil.

Profile: Mobile Macronutrients - Nitrogen

Nitrogen fertilizer is commonly applied to row crops, such as corn, to improve yield and quality of the harvested crop. However, nitrogen that is not used by a crop or leaves the field can be released into the air(ammonia and nitrous oxide), surface, and groundwater (nitrate).

This profile highlights two U.S. farmers who incorporate 4R practices into their soil health management system to optimize nitrogen use.

Check out other SHP business cases and profiles here

5 ways to evaluate the health of your soil

By SHP Staff on  March 26, 2020 06:04
5 ways to evaluate the health of your soil

Here are five ways you can evaluate your fields to determine if your soil is healthy. 

  1. Water infiltration
    Use a water infiltration kit if you have one. Otherwise, you can observe how much standing water there is after a rainstorm. While infiltration rates can vary based on soil texture, it can also vary because of issues like compaction, low soil aggregate stability, or low organic matter.
  2. Soil aggregate stability, slump test or slake test
    Perform a slump test or a slake test to evaluate the soil aggregate stability. Soil that falls apart in water or completely loses shape has poor aggregate stability which indicates lower organic matter and less “biological glue.” 
  3. Smell
    Soils should have a pleasant earthy odor. Soils that have a strong, off-putting or sulfur-like smell can indicate poor drainage or lack of oxygen in the soil
  4. Erodibility
    Observe the amount of residue on soils. More residue should protect soil from wind or rain. Rills and channels on soils, as well as soil color, can indicate erosion occurring in your field.
  5. Root health-checking at multiply stages
    Sickly plants can occur when there is compaction in the soil because root development is slowed. Digging up plants to observe the size, shape, direction, and color of roots can show issues with compaction. Root health may also indicate water infiltration, as slow growth can occur when soils are too wet.

Evaluate these indicators multiple times throughout the growing season. Take photos and document changes over time. 

The earlier you assess your soil, the earlier you can develop strategies to improve it. These indicators are just part of a systematic approach to improving soil quality.

Today is National Ag Day, share your #soilselfie

By SHP Staff on  March 24, 2020 05:14
Today is National Ag Day, share your #soilselfie

Soil is our business. SHP collects on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of soil health practices on the soil, the environment, and the farmer’s bottom line. We encourage you to join in the celebration by sharing a #soilselfie on social media, tag SHP, and share why soil health and agriculture are important to you!

This marks the 47th anniversary of National Ag Day. The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:  

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced  
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products  
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy  
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food, and fiber industry. We are celebrating American farmers all week. 

Share your #soilselfie with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

3 Types of soil health indicators

By SHP Staff on  March 19, 2020 08:26
3 Types of soil health indicators

The idea of a healthy soil must be conveyed through useful measurements known as soil health indicators that are sensitive to changes in soil processes and represent connections between soil biological, chemical, and physical properties. 

There are three types of soil health indicators:

  1. Chemical Indicators
    • pH: pH is an important indicator of soil health because if there is inadequate soil pH, crop growth can be impacted and key nutrients may become less available. Additionally, soil pH can vary soil microbial communities.
    • Macronutrients: N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S are all macronutrients that are vital to plant growth. If these nutrients are not available in plant usable quantities, crop growth will likely suffer.
    • Micronutrients: Although necessary in smaller quantities than macronutrients, micronutrients are just as critical to plant growth. Typically, soils provide plants with enough necessary micronutrients.  
  2. Physical Indicators
    • Aggregate Stability: Soil aggregates that are held together tightly via root exudates, soil fungi, and inherent soil properties. They can be improved upon by creating environments for “biological glues” to be produced by plants and microbes by reducing tillage that physically breaks soil aggregates.
    • Available Water Capacity: Much of this depends on innate soil texture but can be impacted by the amount of soil organic matter and soil aggregation, both of which can increase water holding capacity.
    • Soil Compaction: High amounts of soil compaction mean less room for air or water in the soil, impacting water infiltration and drainage, plant root growth, as well as soil microbial communities. Being timely when driving large equipment on soils, as well as implementing deep rooting plants on the soil, can help alleviate this.
  3. Biological Indicators
    • Soil Microbial Protein: Measures nitrogen from proteins being broken down in the soil which would then be available for plant uptake.
    • Active Carbon: Measures the carbon-containing compounds which are readily broken down by microbes as food. Active carbon is essentially a measure of the food stock available for microbes, which promotes nutrient availability and cycling.
    • OM: Organic matter influences water holding capacity, contains nutrients that can be broken down and made available, and provides food for microbes. Improving organic matter in the soil can be challenging but made easier by introducing conservation tactics like reducing tillage, adding other crops to a rotation, and using cover crops.
    • Respiration: Measures the amount of CO2 produced by microbes which can help indicate soil microbial activity.

How are you measuring the health of your soil? Register for our upcoming Soil Sessions to learn more about soil health indicators. 

SHP Launches The People of Soil Health Podcast

By SHP Staff on  March 12, 2020 08:00
SHP Launches The People of Soil Health Podcast

SHP Senior Director John Mesko will serve as the host and will interview the best in the agricultural and environmental industries to discuss soil health practices and management systems, issues facing farmers, and insights from soil data sets. 

The podcast will discuss the following questions and many more:

  • What is soil health? 
  • What are the benefits of cover crops and conservation tillage? 
  • How can my farm be more sustainable? 
  • Why is healthy soil important?
  • What’s the best way to increase organic matter in a corn field? 

Tune in to listen to experts answer these questions, share their experiences, and more!

During the first episode of The People of Soil Health, Senior Director John Mesko will be visiting with SHP Lead Scientist Dr. Maria Bowman to review SHP’s first business case about an Indiana farmer and the economic benefits of his wheat cover crop management practices. As the science of soil health continues to evolve, Maria has become a recognized leader in collecting and analyzing on-farm data to help farmers improve their decision making.

“At our core, SHP believes in the power of partnerships. The people collaborating to advance the complex issues of soil health are remarkable, and I can’t wait to bring you into these conversations,” commented John.

A new episode will drop every other Tuesday. Subscribe to our podcast to be the first to know about new episodes!

SHP recognizes farmers with Seeds of Change awards

By SHP Staff on  March 5, 2020 08:00
SHP recognizes farmers with Seeds of Change awards

“The Soil Health Partnership’s farmers are at the core of our work. Without their commitment and support, the work of SHP does not exist. I feel honored to partner with this strong group of farmers and recognize five farmers that go above and beyond in their work with SHP,” said John Mesko, SHP senior director. 

SHP is a farmer-led initiative that promotes the adoption of soil health practices for economic and environmental benefit. A program of the National Corn Growers Association, SHP extends to more than 200 working farms in 16 states.  While building a peer-to-peer network, SHP collects on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of soil health practices on the soil, the environment, and the farmer’s bottom line.

The five award recipients are: 

Super Sprout: Trinity Creek Ranch

The father-daughter duo, Mikayla Tabert and David Miller of Trinity Creek Ranch, in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, received the Super Sprout award for their continuous experiments with management practices to improve soil health, despite the challenges of a shorter growing season and extremely cold winters. 

Champion Communicator: Mark Heckman with Heckman Farms

Mark Heckman of Heckman Farms, in West Liberty, Iowa, received the Champion Communicator award for his work helping other farmers understand his farm’s soil health journey. 

Data Dominator: Daryl and Jason Maple with Maple Farms

Receiving the Data Dominator award is Daryl and Jason Maple of Maple Farms in Kokomo, Indiana for promoting optimum soil health by timely sharing data with many precision ag programs. They are confident that their data will tell the story of what changes are taking place in their field and they genuinely enjoy the learning opportunities of their Soil Health Partnership trial.

Exceptional Educator: Doug Palen with Palen Family Farms

The Exceptional Educator award goes to Doug Palen of Palen Family Farms in Glen Elder, Kansas. Doug and his family enjoy talking about their soil health management experiences, and they jump into many experiences with both feet, giving them even more to teach.  

Ace Agronomist: Darin Kennelly with Precise Crop

Darin Kennelly of Precise Crop received the Ace Agronomist award for his leadership with his test plots. He works diligently to ensure soil tests are pulled correctly, is actively engaged in all soil testing, and is well respected with his farmer. Darin asks thought provoking questions and engages with SHP to ensure his test plots are done with great integrity. Darin is an independent ag consultant based in central Illinois.

Read the complete press release celebrating these award-winners here 

Wheat trials evaluate soil health and environmental indicators

By SHP Staff on  February 20, 2020 07:03
Wheat trials evaluate soil health and environmental indicators

“We see soil health as a foundational part of the equation that we need to build resilience,” Justin Knopf said.

Justin farms in Gypsum, Kansas alongside his dad and brother. They grow wheat, corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, alfalfa and triticale. They utilize multi-species cover crops between the grain crops. 

Wheat is an important part of the Knopf’s crop rotation.

“It removes a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it first in the residue and then in the soil. Also, as a high carbon residue, it gives us good protection on top of our soil,” Knopf said. “It's important to us to be growing a mix of crops that are both summer annuals and winter annuals, to have increased diversity in our cropping system.”

Growing wheat also helps spread their risk. 

“Our weather is really unpredictable. We know here in Kansas we're going to be limited by water at some point through the year, although 2019 was an exception with the extreme amount of rainfall we received. Growing a winter annual within our crop mix helps spread our weather risk, making our cropping system more diverse and therefore more resilient,” Knopf said. 

Knopf will be conducting an enhanced practice trial on their SHP plot over the next five years where a cover crop trial that will consist of adding a cover crop to any open window between grain crops is compared with the same system with no cover crops.

“The enhanced practice will have continuous living roots in the cropping sequence. So, any time we harvest a grain crop, we will shortly thereafter be going back through and seeding either a cover crop or the next grain crop,” Knopf said. 

This research will allow Knopf to compare how extending the growing season with cover crops, and how maintaining living roots in their soils for a longer period of time each year affects their unique crop rotation.

In the fall of 2019, soil tests that will serve as baseline measurements were taken and the entire field was seeded in wheat. After wheat harvest, the control strips will remain as residue while the trial strips will have a multi-species cover crop seeded into it. The intended crop rotation will then be wheat, sorghum and then soybeans. 

SHP Field Manager for Kansas and Nebraska, Keith Byerly will be measuring soil characteristics including soil carbon, physical characteristics and biological characteristics to measure the impact of how having a living root in the soil throughout the year impacts soil health. The yield impact between the two practices will be tracked as well. 

At the end of the trial, what does success look like? Knopf has three factors he would like to see. 

“I would want to see that we've increased our soil carbon across those five years, which means we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. I consider it to be the energy currency of the biological system. So the more carbon we have in our soils, the better they will be functioning in general,” Knopf said.

Knopf would also find the practice successful if a more robust and diverse biological population was present through increased earthworm counts and higher fungi to bacterial ratio recorded.

He hopes to see physical soil characteristics improved as well through increased soil aggregation and greater aggregate stability. “That would give us better water infiltration and storage ability in our soil.”

He noted, “The outcomes from yield, increased resilience, improved soils and the costs that we incur from the enhanced practice of utilizing cover crops need to balance to be economically feasible,” Knopf said. 

Knopf hopes to utilize what he learns from his SHP plot to scale the practice to more acres in their operation.

“I’m looking forward to better quantifying the value and soil health improvement that comes through incorporating cover crops into my rotation,” Knopf said. 

SHP adds Dr. Roever as Data Manager

By SHP Staff on  February 6, 2020 08:00
SHP adds Dr. Roever as Data Manager

Dr. Roever’s primary responsibility will be to assist in organizing and finding efficiencies in the SHP data. “I enjoy assembling the puzzle that is involved with figuring out data and looking for efficiencies. I’m eager to dig into SHP’s data and make sense of how it all fits together,” she commented.

Dr. Roever completed her bachelor’s degree at Indiana State University, her master's degree at University of Alberta and her doctorate at University of Pretoria. Her degrees are in wildlife biology, looking at habitat selection.

After her doctorate, Dr. Roever went to Oregon State University where she studied cattle movement across the landscape during drought. Dr. Roever then accepted a Data Manager position at the University of Idaho through a grant with EPSCoR, where she helped to train and educate researchers on how to manage data and ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

“We are eager to have Dr. Roever join our staff and help us better organize our rich dataset. She will be working closely with our team as we work to improve how we collect, manage, and integrate data to serve SHP farmers and advance our research goals,” said SHP Lead Scientist Dr. Maria Bowman.

First Soil Health Partnership Annual Report highlights successes and growth in 2019

By SHP Staff on  January 30, 2020 08:16
First Soil Health Partnership Annual Report highlights successes and growth in 2019

The year began with the release of preliminary findings at the 2019 Soil Health Summit. These findings indicated that organic matter is increasing on SHP Research Fields, and that there is no statistically significant evidence of yield drag from cover crops across the SHP network. 

Our team has grown and evolved. Four additional field staff were added this year to accommodate the growing number of sites. We also expanded resources in the science and research area in an effort to increase data analysis. 

Partnerships are core to our work at SHP and we continued to leverage diverse alliances. New research partners include Environmental Defense Fund, The Fertilizer Institute, and Woods Whole Research Center. As we worked to expand SHP’s capacity for data management, integration, and analysis, we formalized partnerships with the University of Minnesota GEMS and OpenTeam. We now have 28 grant agreements and 6 research agreements. 

New communication channels were launched in 2019 to further connect with the soil health community. Our weekly blog, Digging In, provides agronomic insights and organization updates. Our webinar series, Soil Sessions, addresses monthly topics that benefit SHP farmers and the soil health community.

As we look ahead to 2020, we are excited to launch the SHP podcast, The People of Soil Health, in the spring. Senior Director John Mesko will be hosting this monthly conversation with soil health leaders, and we look forward to reaching new audiences with soil health information.

This is just a highlight of the strides made by the SHP this year. Download the full annual report to see the complete review of the year.

Open the interactive report here:


To learn more about SHP’s plans for the upcoming year, listen to the replay of the webinar SHP Senior Director John Mesko hosted, Welcome to 2020, SHP's Next Phase.

SHP hosts educational sessions at upcoming Commodity Classic

By SHP Staff on  January 23, 2020 10:19
SHP hosts educational sessions at upcoming Commodity Classic

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is attending Commodity Classic and is hosting a series of educational sessions throughout the three-day gathering. SHP is hosting two Soil Sessions LIVE events at the trade show booth. These 10-minute conversations take place on Thursday and Friday in booth #1945.

Take a look at the list of SHP events below and visit our Facebook page to stay updated on these events. 

Soil Sessions LIVE

10-minute soil health talks in booth #1945

Thursday, February 27

  • 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. - Media preview
  • 1:00 p.m. - Field Manager Maddy Rabenhorst will discuss transitioning to no-till

Friday, February 28

What’s New Session: Carbon Insetting Framework Providing Opportunities to Growers 

Thursday, February 27 

  • 8:15 – 9:45 a.m. What's New Session Meeting Room 
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Main Stage of Trade Show

During this session we will discuss what carbon insetting is, how it helps growers and how the model fits into the broader landscape of carbon markets. SHP, along with various partners, received a Conservation Innovation Grant in 2016 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.  The purpose of the grant was to create a carbon accounting and insetting framework that would enable companies along the supply chain to encourage their farmer growers to adopt conservation practices such as planting cover crops and reducing tillage in order to sequester carbon in the soil. As we wrap up the grant, the framework is ready for other companies to apply in order to achieve on-farm emissions reductions. The framework employs a low-cost, low-touch verification model tool and models soil organic carbon reductions to scale the benefits across supply chains.

Seeds of Change award winners

Friday, February 28

  • 11:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. 

Join us in our booth, #1945, to meet the SHP Seeds of Change farmer award winners. 

Learning Session: Assessing & Expanding Soil Health for Production, Economic and Environmental Benefits: The FFAR Soil Health Collaboration

Friday, February 28

  • 2:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. - Room 302 

SHP, Soil Health Institute and The Nature Conservancy will share how we are working together to apply soil health research in a practical way for farmers and landowners. Growers will leave the session with a broader knowledge of the items they should be testing for to measure soil health on their farm and be able to compare it with data published by other organizations including Soil Health Institute and SHP. They will also learn tips and tactics on how to discuss soil health practices with their landowners in order to help their landowners understand the benefits of implementing these practices and incentivize further adoption on their farms.

We hope you will join us!