Digging In

SHP Staff

Total posts: 23
Last post: January 16, 2020 08:00

Wheat cover crop benefits SHP farmer

By SHP Staff on  January 16, 2020 08:00
Wheat cover crop benefits SHP farmer

Mike, with his brother Jeff, farms 3,100 acres of rolling farmland west of Indianapolis, Indiana; together, they own 1,400 acres and rent 1,700 acres. Most of the cropland is in a corn-soybean or corn-soybean-wheat rotation. Mike has about 1/3 of his acres in no-till, 1/3 in minimal tillage, and 1/3 in conventional tillage. He began working with the Soil Health Partnership in 2016 to experiment with cover crops, and has expanded the acres he cover crops beyond his SHP research field. 

Mike now plants a wheat cover crop each year on approximately 300 acres of highly erodible land (HEL). 

Mike broadcasts wheat cover crop seed at approximately 60 pounds per acre with a fall fertilizer application (immediately after harvest) and incorporates both with a vertical tillage tool. Wheat is not harvested, so he terminates the wheat cover crop in the spring when it is approximately 12-14" tall by burning it down with an herbicide application. Because there is no spring tillage, he plants directly into the cover crop residue with a no-till planter.

The biggest benefit of the wheat cover crop, in Mike’s experience, is that he uses fewer herbicides during the growing season. He estimates the value of this weed control benefit to be worth at least $10/acre. Also, although he is not required to add cover crops to his HEL, doing so ensures he is going above and beyond to minimize soil erosion--and significant increases in soil organic matter on Mike’s research field between 2016 and 2018 suggest that Mike might see long-term benefits in soil water holding capacity and nutrient cycling and availability as a result of using cover crops. 

Implementing cover crops on his HEL was a natural fit for Mike after he started experimenting with cover crops on his SHP research field. Because he had already adopted minimum-till on his HEL in order to meet conservation compliance requirements, there was no additional cost, other than the seed itself, to seed or terminate the cover crop. Putting a dollar value on weed control has encouraged Mike to increase the use of cover crops. 

Download the entire business case to read more about Mike’s story and see how cover crops impacted his bottom line. 

Dustin Brucker joins SHP as western Iowa Field Manager

By SHP Staff on  January 9, 2020 13:59
Dustin Brucker joins SHP as western Iowa Field Manager

Dustin grew up on his family’s corn and soybean farm in Illinois.  He earned his undergraduate degree in Agriculture Business and his master’s degree in Seed Technology and Business from Iowa State University

After graduation, he accepted a position with Monsanto in their Maui, Hawaii corn trait integration facility. Upon returning to Iowa, Dustin worked in corn yield trial testing and eventually landed in logistics where he was responsible for the data collection, management, and quality assurance of the corn trials. 

“I have grown up around agriculture and have spent my career in agriculture. I look forward to working with growers to maximize their soil potential and establish great quality soil for years to come. I’m eager to get started and begin problem solving with the team,” said Brucker. 

“Dustin brings a breadth of industry knowledge, and we are eager to add him to our Field Team. His expertise in data management and ensuring adequate communication is vital to the sampling we do. Our Iowa farmers are going to benefit greatly by having Dustin as an extension of their operation,” commented Jack Cornell, SHP Field Team Director.

Jacob Ness is transitioning to the role of Geospatial Data Analyst to provide additional support for data processing, cleaning, analysis, and management to follow his passion for data.

Register for the next Soil Session, SHP 2020: Your partner in soil health

By SHP Staff on  January 2, 2020 12:42
Register for the next Soil Session, SHP 2020: Your partner in soil health

SHP Senior Director John Mesko will kick off the new year with a look at what SHP is planning to do in 2020 and beyond. He will discuss learnings to advance SHP work into the future and SHP's role within the soil health community. The challenging growing season of 2019 highlighted the need for a focus on farming resiliency. John will discuss the impact of building soil health as a primary emphasis in agriculture and SHP's role in addressing soil health changes and their impact on farms.

Click here to register now!

Please register even if you are unable to join us live, as a recording of the webinar will be distributed. All previous Soil Sessions are recorded and can be viewed any time on our YouTube channel

Subscribe to our email list and never miss a Soil Session invitation.  

Elyssa McFarland Named SHP Development Manager

By SHP Staff on  December 9, 2019 10:31
Elyssa McFarland Named SHP Development Manager

As Development Manager, Elyssa will build and maintain SHP’s broad spectrum of partnerships, expanding the resource base for the important work of building soil health and creating a sustainable future for farming and food. She joins a strong national team that is focused on identifying and sharing the economic and environmental benefits of varied soil management strategies and providing a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms.

Elyssa is no stranger to the SHP family. She previously served as a Field Manager for Iowa and Missouri and assisted with SHP development work before returning to her family’s farm in Iowa. 

“We are eager to have Elyssa’s support in building partnerships and nurturing relationships at SHP. She brings a breadth of soil health knowledge understands our mission very well,” said John Mesko, SHP Senior Director. 

Elyssa McFarland was raised on a grain and livestock farm east of Columbus Junction, Iowa. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University and dual Master’s degrees in Agronomy and Soil Science from the University of Wisconsin

Elyssa resides in southeast Iowa.


December 5 is World Soil Day

By SHP Staff on  December 2, 2019 13:04
December 5 is World Soil Day

SHP Educates Hill Staff on Soil Health

By SHP Staff on  November 26, 2019 11:20
SHP Educates Hill Staff on Soil Health

Harborview Farms owner and operator Trey Hill explained the need to improve soil management practices with each generation. He discussed how being a pioneer in the industry has affected his farm. Hill utilizes cover crops and no till, and experiments with roller crimper tools to find ways to increase soil health and profitability on his farm.  

Congressional staffers got out in the field to witness how diverse cover crop species impact soil health. Staffers spoke with SHP Field Managers to understand the close relationship between SHP farmers and Field Managers. They also learned about the challenges facing growers who decide to change their management systems to focus more on soil health. Some of these challenges include changing or upgrading equipment, changing planting and harvesting timelines, adjusting for different pest and weed pressures, and figuring out how to pay for it all.

SHP Lead Scientist Maria Bowman explained the unique role SHP plays in providing technical assistance to farmers like Hill.

The field day was held in collaboration with the University of Maryland’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Technology along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory.

SHP Partners with GEMS to Store and Manage Data

By SHP Staff on  October 31, 2019 08:00
SHP Partners with GEMS to Store and Manage Data

“SHP looks forward to the partnership growing each year. The first year, we are focusing on securely storing and backing up data, connecting to other major data sets, and creating a data cleaning system for SHP yield data,” said Jack Cornell, SHP Field Team Director. “The second year, we hope to focus on utilizing the data cleaning system for our yield data and creating a platform for quick staff access to data.”

GEMS is a data sharing and analytical platform that enables public-private research collaborations for innovation in food and agricultural production, and other domain areas. The GEMS platform will enable SHP to securely store data, while providing and controlling access for research partners and collaborators. Within GEMS, users have access to tools to clean data, enable data interoperability, and apply advanced analytic methods to all of the diverse types of data that SHP currently collects and manages, such as soils data, management and socio-economic data, and yield data.

“We are excited to work with GEMS as we improve how we manage, integrate, and analyze data at SHP. Taking data management and integration to the next level will build our capacity to collect and analyze data and report results back to farmers, partners, and the agricultural community,” says SHP Lead Scientist, Dr. Maria Bowman.

GEMS is jointly led by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI) at the University of Minnesota, and the GEMS hardware and software resides in a secure data center managed by the MSI. The core platform is hosted in MSI’s local, secure, scalable cloud environment. 

"The GEMS team is really looking forward to working with SHP leadership on the crucial first steps of data cleaning and tool design. If done well, we can collectively enable farmers to make meaningful farm management decisions that improve soil health and crop productivity," commented GEMS Operations Manager, Kevin Silverstein.  

Dr. Aaron Brooker Joins SHP as Research Fellow

By SHP Staff on  October 1, 2019 08:00
Dr. Aaron Brooker Joins SHP as Research Fellow

“We are looking forward to having Dr. Brooker’s expertise onboard at SHP. He is going to be a great asset as he cleans and analyzes SHP yield data. SHP farmers will be seeing a lot of Dr. Brooker over the next year as he gets out in the field,” said Dr. Maria Bowman, SHP Lead Scientist. 

Dr. Brooker grew up in Waterford, Ohio on a small grain and livestock farm. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from The Ohio State University. He recently completed his Ph.D. at Michigan State University where he researched cover crops interseeded in corn in a unique project combining agronomy, weed science, soil health and remote sensing. 

“I am eager to review SHP’s data and identify how it can best serve SHP and farmers,” said Dr. Brooker. “I am passionate about identifying research activities that directly benefit farmers and have been fortunate to work closely with farmers and do a lot of on-farm research that has given me a greater understanding of the issues farmers are dealing with.” 

Aaron and his wife currently reside in Lansing, Michigan. He enjoys playing sports and being active outdoors in all seasons, whether it is swimming, camping and hiking in the summer, or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.


TNC: Championing Conversations Between Non-Operating Landowners and Farmers

By SHP Staff on  September 17, 2019 11:37
TNC: Championing Conversations Between Non-Operating Landowners and Farmers

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is an inverse correlation between highly rented farmland and adoption of no till practices. There are many different ownership structures that influences how management decisions are made, how the land is valued and how it is taken care of.

There is a strong level of trust between non-operating landowners and their farmer. Many operate on verbal leases or year to year leases, which present challenges and introduces uncertainty for both parties. The social dynamics in the non-operating landowner-farmer relationship are strong, and typically span through multiple generations. Non-operating landowners trust their farmer, value soil health and are looking to their farmer to guide them in making conservation recommendations. 

Because of the long-standing relationship, both parties are sensitive not to disrupt the agreement by suggesting major changes to management practices. 

According to a survey completed by American Farmland Trust and Utah State University, non-operating landowners are largely retired, a fair number of them still live on the farm, previously farmed or are from an agricultural background. They understand agriculture. Many active farmers utilize soil health practices on their land, but that transfer is not being seen on rented farmland.  

  • 80% of non-operating landowners said their farmer is the most important source for conservation information
  • 84% indicated that maintaining soil productivity is a very important quality for a farm
  • 87% indicate that they are committed to their farmer continuing to farm their land
  • 16 is the average number of years non-operating landowners have been working with their farmers 

TNC continues utilizing collaborative relationships to increase conversations between non-operating landowners and their farmers in regards to implementing conservation practices on more U.S. farmland. 

View the full Soil Sessions webinar where TNC discusses opportunities with non-operating landowners here

FFAR Investment Essential to SHP’s Growth

By SHP Staff on  September 5, 2019 08:00
FFAR Investment Essential to SHP’s Growth

The FFAR investment in SHP supports collaborative research and education that accelerates adoption and benefits of soil health management systems nationally. Soil health is a critical component of a productive and sustainable agricultural system. Farming practices that improve soil health can increase profitability while protecting natural resources like air and water for communities.

FFAR funding has positioned SHP to fully leverage the unique data set and build strong partnerships with the Soil Health Institute and The Nature Conservancy. SHP’s work is helping industry adopt standardized measurements to evaluate and improve soil health while increasing access to education and tools for local farmers, agronomists, and landowners.

Through FFAR’s support, SHP has strengthened existing research and expanded the SHP team to maintain quality data collection and farmer engagement. The expanded SHP team allows increased collaboration with varying organizations and farmers in new geographies to better access where SHP can best serve a larger audience of growers. Increasing the SHP network opens opportunities where improvement is needed and identifies where farmers’ greatest needs reside. 


The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a farmer-led initiative fostering transformation in agriculture through improved soil health. SHP has grown from 17 active farms in 2014 to 220 active farms in 2019. SHP represents around 6,000 acres, spans across 16 states and partners with over 100 organizations at the federal, state and county levels. Join us as we reflect on the past five years and celebrate the opportunities ahead!