In this final episode of The People of Soil Health podcast, host and SHP Senior Director John Mesko reflects on the legacy of Soil Health Partnership, the people who have made our work possible and how the organization’s impact will live on for many years to come.
Trey Hill, who owns and operates Harborview Farms in partnership with his father, is no stranger to conservation agriculture.
“I’m a Midwestern farm trapped in Maryland, I would like to say. We till a little over 10,000 acres. We grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and some barley for malting purposes,” he explained on The People of Soil Health Podcast. “We’re 100% cover cropped. I like to say we’re 100% no-tilled, but we’re probably 99% or 99.5% no-till. We’re still doing a little bit of tillage on some headlands and what not.”
And, so, when “dumb luck” gave him the opportunity to experiment with carbon markets – someone he knew introduced him to the team at Nori – he jumped at the chance to capitalize on his efforts.
“I’m very positive on it,” Trey said. “I think it’s really good for agriculture. I think it gets us in a whole other conversation.”
One of those conversations included being interviewed recently for an article in The Washington Post – something he’s very proud of because it was positive coverage of how farmers are helping mitigate climate change.
“How hard is it for a farmer to get into the Washington Post with a positive story?” he said, still amazed himself. “If you have a good story to tell, you have to tell it.”
To learn more about Trey’s experience in carbon markets, cover cropping, no-till, and his partnership with SHP, tune in to episode 31 of The People of Soil Health podcast in the player above or in your favorite podcast app.
NOTE: The mission of SHP is to help farmers adopt soil health practices for environmental and economic benefits. SHP does not support or endorse any particular carbon market or program. Our goal with The People of Soil Health Podcast is to provide a space for dialogue around relevant topics related to soil health and conservation agriculture.
“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!
Conservation practices sound nice…but what is the financial impact?
That is a question we get asked about a lot. While there’s a lot of discussion in agriculture, environmental and policy circles about implementing conservation practices, the reality is that sustainability goals have to match up with farmers’ need to run profitable operations. That is why Soil Health Partnership recently embarked on a project – in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom – to analyze the financial impact of these practices on real, working farms.
In this episode of The People of Soil Health, host John Mesko sits down with Dr. Maria Bowman of SHP and Vincent Gauthier of EDF – lead authors on the new report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line – to discuss their findings.
“There’s been a lot of interest from SHP farmers, our funders, and our partners to do more work to understand some of these financial challenges and opportunities related to soil health practices and conservation practices,” Bowman said. “Although we already collect some economic and management data from farmers at SHP, we are still a long way from getting very precise information about farm budgets across all of our farms. I had already had some conversations with Vincent and Maggie Monast about the work that EDF was doing and some of the work [they were] interested in doing. I knew that they shared our take on the need to do a deep dive into the numbers to understand some of these complex systems, and the financial dynamics associated with them.”
As the project team did that deep dive into the financial records of seven Midwest farmers, they identified three big takeaways around:
- The cost savings farmers experience by reducing or eliminating tillage
- The impact of experience on the profitability of cover crops
- The importance of setting clear goals and expectations around your conservation system
“We hope that, by showing it in a full budget form like we have – showing all of the line items like we have in the report – that this will help farmers plan and have better expectations ahead of time of what the financial outcomes [of conservation practices] look like,” Gauthier said.
Check out the full episode of The People of Soil Health in the player above or in your favorite podcast app. You can also dig into the report Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line by visiting soilhealthpartnership.org/farmfinance or watching a replay of our January 2021 Soil Sessions webinar.
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.
For Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, a passion for soil health started long ago, digging in the garden, and grew when she left for college and participated in a study abroad trip in Madagascar. Today, that dedication continues in her role as Director of the Soil Health Division for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, or NRCS.
“I really got into working with NRCS because the agency really focuses on those other components of soil function – the loss of organic matter, the loss of aggregate stability, the increased soil crusting and compaction that you get, the increased erosion that happens. And I could really see that that’s where the impacts were, because that’s something that a lot of producers are not necessarily aware of,” she shared.
In this episode of The People of Soil Health, Dr. Moebius-Clune sat down to talk with SHP Senior Director John Mesko about her work at NRCS, how the agency partners with groups like SHP, and how she sees the benefits of soil health going beyond agriculture.
“I think the thing to know is soil health is a win-win opportunity. There’s win-win all around because, not only does the producer win right there on their land because they’re able to grow the crop and able to maintain that and to make money and often reduce inputs, but also all of society wins,” she said.
You can listen to the full episode using the player above or by checking out The People of Soil Health in your favorite podcast app.
In 2017, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) recognized the importance of healthy soil when it awarded a $10 million grant over three years to the Soil Health Institute (SHI), the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) and The Nature Conservancy to advance soil health science, research and education. Matched by foundations, leading companies, a commodity group, and others, this award represents a total investment of nearly $20 million—one of the largest private investments in soil health to date.
During the past three years, SHI, SHP and TNC formed a strong partnership, with each organization bringing their unique expertise to the table and leveraging one another’s strengths to effect positive change on U.S. farms. The generous support of FFAR and the matching funders enabled our collaboration to make tremendous strides, as evidenced by these key milestones:
You can learn more about the FFAR grant, our partner organizations, and the impact of these efforts at this website.
Iowa Corn has several major goals that drive programs and projects for their sustainability platform:
- Protect and improve the land, water, and natural resources
- Minimize regulations on farmers that could potentially reduce profitability
- Maintain farmers’ social license to operate
- Be a leader in sustainability, making sure that sustainability is a part of all programming
Ben Gleason, Sustainable Program Manager for Iowa Corn, gets the opportunity to work for Iowa farmers on all of these goals, leveraging partnerships with different stakeholders to move the needle on sustainability in the agriculture industry.
One area he is focusing on is reduced tillage. Tillage changes are one opportunity for farmers to impact on-farm sustainability and have become more prominent as awareness increases. Gleason says the state isn’t all no-till by any means, but is seeing strip-till gain in popularity as it is often “the best of both worlds” – tillage where you need it and residue everywhere you don’t.
Regarding cover crops, Gleason said, “We have seen a big, big jump in cover crops, which is fantastic. We went from virtually zero acres to about two million acres. I think we’ll be well over that this year with an early harvest that will allow more cover crop acres to get seeded.”
Iowa farmers are also experimenting with other practices, like nutrient reduction wetlands, which Gleason says are effective to manage nitrogen loss.
“We’re making progress. We have got a long way to go. Obviously, our water quality issues didn’t pop up overnight, so we’re not planning to solve them overnight either. But we have got a lot of momentum going, and we would like to keep it that way,” he said.
Iowa Corn also has a history of connecting Iowa farmers with the Soil Health Partnership, with both organizations really stressing farmer-to-farmer, peer-to-peer learning. They believe that works best.
“Soil health awareness is huge now. I think that mission is accomplished. [Soil health is] part of the decision-making process now, I believe,” he said.
Learn more about Iowa Corn’s specific water quality and sustainability programming, as well as how they are facilitating farmer-to-farmer learning during a global pandemic, by clicking on the player above or listening to The People of Soil Health in your favorite podcast player.
Darrick Steen, Director of Environmental Programs for Missouri Soybean and Missouri Corn, says his pathway to an interest in soil health starts with a turkey farm and a father involved in state politics. He grew up watching heated political and regulatory debates around animal agriculture and the environment. Eventually, he found his way to soil health and, as he describes it, “improving and maintaining our soil resources.”
Steen says that Missouri Corn and Soybean primarily work to make farmers aware of the issues and challenges in front of them. In the environmental area, this means helping farmers understand the threats, but also the opportunities to take advantage of.
One of those opportunities is the Missouri Strip Trial Program, born in the Missouri nutrient reduction strategy, which focuses on the application of cover crops and how to manage cover crops in corn and soybean rotations.
Another is working with the Soil Health Partnership.
“The Strip Trial Program is looking at the application of cover crops, the impact on yield and how to fine tune the use of cover crops. The Soil Health Partnership is diving into the science of what is going on in the soil. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about soil,” Steen said.
The important questions include:
- What are the things in the soil and in the fields that need to be monitored?
- What should farmers be paying attention to?
- There are too many variables to be focused on everything, so what recommendations will make the biggest impact?
Steen said there is always a little overlap on the programs, but SHP has a unique perspective on the soil science side that is needed to accomplish farmers’ overall sustainability goals.
Some of the farmers Steen works with get concerned that they cannot make changes quickly enough to meet their soil health goals. But Steen’s advice rings true: sometimes the most important things take time.
“I’m confident that the next generation will make some dramatic improvements on the farm and will ensure that we feed our country and feed the world, as well as make our environment a better place,” he said.
Listen in to the rest of this interview above or in your favorite podcast player.