Ep. 27: Elyssa McFarland – What’s In Store for SHP?

Elyssa McFarland started out on the ground floor of the Soil Health Partnership. Initially coming in as an independent contractor, Elyssa quickly became an SHP field manager. She was part of rolling out the first trial sites in Iowa and watched the program expand into what it is today. 

“[Soil Health Partnership] did have that kind of rapid growth and energy. I think that brought a lot of folks who have that passion for this work and a particular expertise that were looking to jump into a project that they could really put their foot on the gas and help it get to the next stage,” she shared. “And when I look across the field team, as well as the science team, we’ve got a lot of folks who have a lot of energy and expertise and it keeps us moving forward and adapting to the new things that are on our plate.” 

Elyssa is now the Field Development Director at SHP. In this episode of The People of Soil Health Podcast, she sits down with John Mesko to discuss where SHP has been, where the organization is now and where it is heading in the future. 

“I think one of the things that I’m most excited about is being able to take this kind of machine, if you will, this group of people and infrastructure that we’ve built that works really effectively with farmers on the ground to collect information, to process it and make it available,” she said. “I think the sky’s the limit in terms of the ways that we can help farmers understand how these practices are affecting their farm, affecting their bottom line, their soils, all of these things.” 

Tune in to the full episode of The People of Soil Health podcast  – using the player above or subscribing in your favorite podcast player – to learn more.

Episode Resources:

Soil Health – An Investment in the Long-Term

Soil Health Partnership was born from a shared vision of developing a farmer-led research network that could measure the impacts of implementing soil health practices on working farms. Greg Whitmore of Shelby, Neb. was one of those leading farmers.

One of the original 14 SHP farmers, Greg believes in the soil health mission and has found his work within the partnership to be a fascinating and rewarding experience.

“I joined because I was using cover crops and no-till. I wanted to see if the economic and environmental gains and soil quality were real or just perceived,” he said. “Since joining, I have seen less wind and water erosion and better water infiltration and retention.”

In fact, Greg reports big changes during the heavy rains he sometimes gets on his Nebraska farm. Water infiltration has improved, and he reports getting by with less water because the rainfall he gets is preserved for his crops rather than washing away.

Building soil health requires farmers to take a long-term view of their farm management. Farmers can’t expect massive changes overnight, but Greg reports that when the benefits do begin to emerge, they multiply quickly.

“Improving soil health to me is important because I can sustain with less water, less applied nitrogen and we start recycling those nutrients better within the soil,” Greg says.

He believes it is important for farmers to pay attention to the work of the Soil Health Partnership, in order to learn from the experiences of their peers and build better farms for the future. He says it’s also important for non-farmers to take notice of the work SHP farmers are doing to improve the environment and sustain the land.

“[Farmers] are making efforts to improve our environment. Even with what I’ve accomplished so far, I can always do better.”

25. Boone McAfee – Using Research and Outreach to Expand Environmental Stewardship in Nebraska

“Enhancing demand. Adding value. Ensuring sustainability.” Nebraska Corn Board’s strategic vision and mission of creating opportunities for Nebraska’s corn growers have led Boone McAfee to a dynamic role supporting area farmers.

One day he’s discussing production efficiency with his partners at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, trying to find the answer to how we improve or protect production while using fewer resources and inputs. The next day, Boone is trying to find a way to get his research findings to farmers for the betterment of their operation and the agriculture industry as a whole. 

 “When research and best practices are used on farmers’ fields, not only does that farmer benefit from being more efficient and being more sustainable, but so does that whole supply chain. In my role, I’m looking at how I find ways to help influence the public to understand that – whether they’re eating a hamburger made from corn-fed beef, fueling their car with ethanol, or using any of the, literally, thousands of products that utilize corn – corn farmers are contributing to the sustainability of all those things through that effort to continuously improve how they grow their crop and manage those resources.”

In this episode of The People of Soil Health, host John Mesko sits down with Boone to discuss his efforts around providing research to the public and farmers while advocating for state and national initiatives related to supply chain sustainability, ag innovation, soil health, and natural resources. 

And that includes a partnership with SHP.

“I think sometimes soil health is such a neat and simple term that it can be easy for us to forget that it’s actually many complex interactions that take time and guidance to really understand. And, again, just like with personal health, when it comes to soil, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

Check out the full episode of The People of Soil Health in the player above or in your favorite podcast app!

The Power of Collaboration in Expanding Soil Health Knowledge

There is a saying that often makes the rounds on social media that goes something like, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” At SHP, we are on a mission to go far – and, for that, we need a team that extends beyond those who list us on their resume.

There is a reason ‘partnership’ is a core part of our name. Whether we are working with farmers, university researchers, government agencies, state and national level commodity groups or like-minded organizations, we depend on the joint knowledge of each other to push the limits of what we can learn together.

A perfect example of this is our SHP Winter Research Meetings. These events – which are held for farmers enrolled in our program – allow us to collaborate in a number of different ways:

  • SHP science and field team members present their latest research and observations, including trends in planting green, cover crop termination timing, and farm finance data related to conservation practice implementation
  • Farmers share about their experience, what’s worked and what hasn’t (e.g., cover crop species, the future of carbon markets, interseeding)
  • Partner organizations provide updates on what they are doing to further the soil health conversation and why they have teamed up with SHP to move the needle

And this is just one of many events that provide these same benefits. 

During field days, we bring the local farm community together to demonstrate soil health approaches. When we meet with our science or farmer advisory committees, we exchange ideas and challenge each other to consider new ways of thinking. And, as we’re able, we connect with key stakeholders in Washington D.C. to share more about our work and how farmers are part of the solution to many of our environmental issues.

Independence is a great quality. But, for the impact we’re looking to make, it takes a community. Thank you for being a part of ours.

22. Joshlin & Addie Yoder – Sharing the Story of Conservation on the Farm

For Joshlin and Addie Yoder, their journey back to the farm wasn’t a straight path.

“We both attended the University of Missouri and graduated in 2002,” Joshlin explains. “But I went into retail for five years, following graduation from college. We moved to Alabama and lived down there for five years before that desire and that love of being outdoors and being on the farm finally just took back a hold of us and we made the move back to the farm.”

Today, they are raising their four children on the farm, alongside Joshlin’s family in northeast Missouri. They’ve also been working with Soil Health Partnership since 2017 on research looking at cover crops and erosion control.

“I’m a numbers guy,” Joshlin says, “I was really excited to be involved with the research side of it to see, if we do put the cover crops on, which of the things that are being promoted are really happening in the soil and which ones aren’t? Being able to have firsthand experience doing that, for me, is just hugely beneficial because it allows me to implement this on a small scale in some areas, try a variety of different things in these cover crop trials and get some firsthand results. Then I can figure out what works and what doesn’t, so I can spread that out and do it on more acres across my farm.”

Joshlin and Addie were recently recognized for their conservation efforts with the 2020 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which highlights farmers, ranchers, and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife management. Joshlin says the part of the award application he thought they really excelled at was the leadership and communications section, which Addie plays a big role in.

“I’ve been sharing videos and pictures and stories about what happens on our farm specifically for several years because of [Common Ground],” Addie says of the National Corn Growers Association’s outreach training program. “My philosophy in doing it is – if I’m going to have a conversation with someone about a book or about a pair of leggings or something else – maybe they’ll remember, ‘Hey, that girl told me to read this book and it was great, but I also see that she grows corn so maybe I’m going to ask her about ethanol or about pesticides because in one of her pictures the sprayer was in her front yard.’”

Tune into the full conversation with Joshlin and Addie in the player above or in your favorite podcast app. You can also connect with the Yoders by checking out:

Making the Most of the Opportunities We’re Given

One of our team members, Keith Byerly, has been known to remind us from time-to-time that each planting, each harvest – it only happens once. That while we can always learn from this year as we consider what we’ll do in the next, we don’t get a do-over on this trip around the sun. His reminders always seem to give us perspective on the importance of each decision we make on our farms, and the responsibility we have in making sure agriculture remains a sustainable endeavor for many years to come. 

With only so many chances to plant and harvest a crop in our lifetimes, the choices we make to build soil health – to leave the land more productive and resilient for future generations – are ones worth reflecting on. How will my decisions impact my soils? What can I do today so that the next person farming this ground can do so successfully?

At Soil Health Partnership, we are committed to helping you answer those questions. We want to give you the support needed to make the most of your time on the farm – and hopefully leave a legacy for the future.

Thank you to Iowa farmer and former NCGA president, Kevin Ross, for sharing your farm in this video and letting us take a glimpse into the legacy you’re building.

21. John Stewart – Innovative Approaches to Cover Crop Seeding

It’s no secret that, when it comes to cover crop seeding, farmers are always trying to balance a tight timeline and impending weather in the fall. Especially during wet or cold autumns, getting into the field in a timely manner after cash crop harvest – and being able to give your cover crop enough time to germinate and emerge before winter – can be a challenge.

But what if you could streamline processes by planting your cover crop while you are already in the field doing other things?

In this episode of The People of Soil Health Podcast, host John Mesko sits down with SHP Field Manager John Stewart to discuss a new project in Kentucky seeking to answer that exact question.

“A lot of farmers buy their cover crop seed and have a great goal of getting harvest done earlier and being able to get out there and drill it in or broadcast it in or maybe apply it with a VT tool,” Stewart says. “But farmers understand how tight timing is in the fall and that window closes very rapidly.”

In order to help farmers save time and reduce passes across the field, SHP is studying new and different approaches to cover crop seeding. The project is funded by a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) and done in partnership with Kentucky NRCS and The Nature Conservancy. Stewart says the partners are really focused on the “innovation” part of the CIG program.

“We wanted to take a look at cover crop seeding methods that might be a little bit different than what a lot of farmers are doing,” he says. “Each farmer is different with their goals. A few of these trials are going to be looking at seeding cover crops with a cover crop seeder unit that’s actually mounted on the combine [body]. One of the farmers has a focus of a good amount of biomass for livestock grazing. And some of the others are more looking at the erosion side, getting a cover crop established pretty quickly to help [reduce erosion].”

To hear more about the details of the SHP program in Kentucky and the data we are collecting, listen to the full episode of The People of Soil Health in the player above or in your favorite podcast player.