There is no doubt about it: 2020 has been an interesting year.
While we don’t need to rehash everything that made the last 12 months unique and, in many ways, challenging, we can say with confidence that 2020 has been a year of learning, growth, and reminders about what is most important.
As we look forward to what 2021 has to offer, we asked our team to share their biggest soil health lessons from 2020. As usual, their insights are enlightening and give us hope for the future!
Lesson #1: Resilience is key
The biggest lesson I learned this year was that unexpected things will always pop up, but these are the things that you learn the most from. Even when trying to do things perfectly, there are too many variables in agriculture that we can not control. This means things change every year and we learn and refine our toolset so that we can be more successful each year. And sometimes we get lucky! – and we learn from that too.
Anna Teeter, Field Manager – MN/SD
What stands out to me this year is how different the conditions were from last year – extreme moisture in 2019 to anywhere from favorable to drought conditions in 2020. This variability makes it harder to farm in general, but even more difficult to implement conservation practices. We talk a lot about helping farmers frame their cover crop goals and moving toward a resilient system and, for me, these past two years have really elevated the importance of resiliency and ability to adapt.
Kristin Poley, Michigan Research Manager
Lesson #2: Mindset matters when building soils
For farmers, just getting started – even if it’s with something small – is what can create the cascade of changes toward soil health and implementing more conservation practices. Beyond economics, mindset can be one of the biggest barriers to trying new things and making changes on the farm.
Lisa Kubik, Field Manager – IA
I’ve really been reminded of the importance of knowing your goals, having patience, and active scouting.
Abigail Peterson, Field Manager – IL/MO
Lesson #3: Opportunities to build soil health are endless
Strip-till has great potential to support the soil microbiome and also address farmers’ concerns about weed control and seedbed preparation.
John Mesko, SHP Senior Director
Farmers are more willing to take on new management practices if they have a good relationship with individuals willing to go down that path with them, who are not just doing it to chase a couple of bucks.
Jack Cornell, Field Team Director – East | Field Manager – TN
Water infiltration rates change substantially throughout the course of the year. A comparison that shows a substantial difference as the cover crops are terminated may show no difference by the time the row crops mature.
Keith Byerly, Field Team Director – West | Field Manager – KS/NE
Farmers are starting to see a lot of value in cover crops and no-till systems to help control erosion, even on relatively flat ground as a result of heavy rains.
Jim Isermann, Field Manager – IL/WI
Lesson #4: Learning is a never-ending process
One of the biggest things I learned is that the system is an ever-changing practice. As farmers learn and educate themselves, they have become masters of their current practices and they have learned how to add soil health to their operation. They’ve also figured out how to make it work when weather patterns are variable and unpredictable, but yet they stay true to their soil health practices.
Alex Fiock, Field Manager – IN/OH
There is no ‘silver bullet’ to building soil health. Farming practices are unique to each person and, depending on a grower’s operation and goals, soil health outcomes will vastly differ across all geographies and farm scales.
Dustin Brucker, Field Manager – IA
A big lesson for me is the realization that I’ve got so much yet to learn about soil health in row crop agriculture. The successful adoption of conservation methods is still a big challenge for many on their individual farms. Research is still needed to dial in cover crop management and other conservation approaches so that farmers can be confident in adopting them. There is also a big need for the understanding of the soil microbiome and its abilities to aid in nutrient management. I’m looking forward to continuing work on these areas in the coming year.
John Stewart, Field Manager – IN/KY/OH
As you celebrate the holidays and plan for the future, we hope you take a few moments to reflect on the soil health lessons you’ve learned on your farm. After all, there is no greater opportunity than to evaluate our experiences and seek improvement as we move forward!