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The start of a new year provides opportunities for fresh beginnings. It also gives us the chance to reflect on the past and consider what we want for the future. As you consider your soil health approaches for the new year, here are three ways you can set yourself up for success.

Look back on past experience

As you think about your soil health work last year, ask yourself: What worked? What could stand to be improved upon? What do you still need to learn?

If you planted cover crops this past fall, how did that fit with the time you had available? Did the weather cooperate like you had hoped? Did you use a seeding method that worked well for your operation, or would you choose something else in the future?

If you tried a new method of tillage – perhaps strip-till or no-till – what did you think of it? Would you do anything differently if you took that approach again? Do you have questions that still need to be answered?

So often, we’re moving quickly – shifting from one to-do item to the next. However, if we can take some time to reflect, it may uncover things we should keep in mind moving forward or gaps in our knowledge or experience that need to be filled.

Set goals for the next 12 months

In our on-farm research, we are learning over and over again that the farmers who see the most impact or learn the most from their soil health work are those who come into a new or adjusted management practice with clear goals. Here’s just a few objectives our farmers have called out:

  • Reduce erosion, especially near waterways
  • Increase microbial activity
  • Build organic matter
  • Make fewer trips across the field
  • Improve soil structure to help with moisture management during adverse weather conditions
  • Incorporate cover crops as part of a nutrient management approach

While each farmer’s goals are unique to their operations, those who set clear, measurable targets are often better able to adjust their actions along the way because they know what they’re trying to achieve. Something else that’s interesting: many of our farmers don’t have a laundry list of goals – they hone in on one or two key areas that would make the biggest difference, and then build upon the progress they make over time.

Say ‘thank you’ to the helpers

In addition to looking backward and forward, the new year is an excellent time for gratitude. In our soil health work, just like in so many areas of our lives, there are plenty of people and organizations that help us out when times get tough, provide resources, and share their expertise.

Who can you reach out and say ‘thanks’ to for their role in helping you get this far? That could include:

  • Family
  • Employees
  • Neighbors
  • Lenders
  • Agronomists
  • Suppliers and equipment dealers
  • University experts and Extension educators
  • Friends
  • Peer groups, such as those in commodity or general farm organizations

It’s easy to take people for granted, so as you set yourself up for success in the new year, pencil in a few moments to show your appreciation for those who help make this work possible.

Digging In

We know there’s a lot on your plate and that the work of farming never ends – but neither does the learning process. So we encourage you to block off some time in your calendar this month and prioritize these three activities. Ask yourself: What did I learn last year? What, specifically, do I want to achieve moving forward? Who can I reach out to and let them know how much I appreciate their help? By taking a purposeful approach to the new year, we create a greater opportunity to set ourselves up for success – no matter what that looks like in your individual farm or business.