SHP Explores Wheat’s Role in Soil Health

SHP’s Wheat Week – held September 8-10 – consisted of three consecutive days of virtual events exploring wheat’s role in soil health.

Day 1: The Wheat Industry’s Perspective on Soil Health

 


In this panel discussion, SHP Senior Director John Mesko spoke with representatives from across the wheat industry about why and how their organizations are investing in soil health initiatives.

Jay Watson of General Mills shared the food company’s goals for sustainability and how they are aligning with farmers to improve soil health through education, coaching, creating community and working to determine sustainability measurements. 

Keira Franz of the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) explained how wheat profitability is tied to areas where water is a constrained resource and how this creates a need for growers to utilize natural resources in an efficient manner. The NWF involvement in creating wheat specific trials with SHP stemmed from their National Wheat Action Plan

Justin Gilpin, CEO of Kansas Wheat, discussed wheat’s benefit to soil through wheat straw, yield gains in row crops and weed control. He also touched on their involvement in the Rainfed Agriculture Innovation Network (RAIN).

And Charlie Vogel, Executive Director at the Minnesota Wheat Growers Association, talked about Minnesota’s unique wheat growing environment and how that brings challenges and opportunity for growers. 

Day 2: SHP Kansas Field Day 

Featuring SHP farmers Justin Knopf and Mike Jordan

 

Day two of Wheat Week focused on Kansas growers. Knopf Farms showed how their SHP wheat trial will focus on building soil health qualities, like biological activity and nutrient cycling, to “jump start” the ground (which they just recently began farming) and change its productivity and sustainability. They also took attendees to a field where they incorporated a multi-species cover crop mix this year and are utilizing grazing by partnering with his neighbor’s cattle herd. 

Kansas SHP farmer, Mike Jordan, explained his interest in cover crops and his historically limited success with them. He’s working to figure out if and how cover crops work over a five year period in semi-arid conditions. 

Central Kansas District Crop Production Agent, Jay Wisbey, talked to growers on the challenges of the 2020 wheat growing season along with what they should consider for the 2021 season.

SHP Kansas Field Manager Keith Byerly then demonstrated an aggregate stability test, along with a soil biological test that growers can do on their own farm.

Day 3: SHP Minnesota Field Day

Featuring SHP farmers Glenn Hjelle and Trinity Creek Ranch

 

The last day of Wheat Week focused on Minnesota. SHP farmer Glen Hjelle provided an overview of his wheat trial and took attendees on a tour of the equipment he utilizes and how it has changed to meet his soil health goals.

Missy Geiszler, Vice President of Research at Minnesota Wheat, shared current trends for wheat growing conditions along with challenges growers face in that region.

Trinity Creek Ranch took attendees inside how they partner their soil health goals from their grain operation with their livestock. They gave background on their wheat trial, along with their journey to interseeding. Attendees got to go behind-the-scenes in a sunflower field to get an honest look at the progress they are making in adding diversity and keeping the ground covered with a flowering plant throughout the entire year. And, finally, Trinity Creek took the group on a tour of their  machinery building to see how they custom-built an interseeder to meet their needs. 

SHP Field Manager Anna Teeter compared the aggregate stability between a long term no-till field and Trinity Creek Ranch’s SHP field trial site, which they recently acquired and where they are working to improve its soil health. 

The week finished off with an  SHP growers’ panel, where farmers answered questions from attendees.

The Soil Health Partnership to Spotlight Unique Benefits of Wheat

The Soil Health Partnership is dedicating three days to wheat’s role in soil health during Wheat Week September 8-10, 2020. Each day will consist of a virtual field day that begins at 9:00 am Central Time.

“We have partnered with several organizations, along with farmers in Minnesota and Kansas, to spotlight the unique benefits of wheat,“ said Anna Teeter, SHP Minnesota Field Manager. “Diversifying crop rotations with a small grain like wheat can provide opportunities to expand conservation practices.”

The first day will focus on why and how wheat industry groups are investing in soil health and striving for sustainability. Day two will feature SHP partner farmers in Kansas, Justin Knopf and Mike Jordan. Day three includes SHP partner farmers in Minnesota, Glenn Hjelle and Trinity Creek Ranch.

This provides the opportunity to hear from growers who have experienced challenges in their operations and are incorporating effective soil health practices to mitigate them, as well as how growers persevere with conservation practices in diverse growing conditions.

“Holding this virtually allows us to have impactful conversations with growers looking for guidance on soil health practices well beyond our area,” said Keith Byerly, SHP Kansas & Nebraska Field Manager. “When it comes to soil health, we find that while the practice may be different, the principle is still the same. So, no matter the region you farm, there are beneficial takeaways.”

To register for one or all three days go to: https://www.soilhealthpartnership.org/events/. If you cannot attend the live event, still register for access to the recording of the field day.

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About the Soil Health Partnership
The Soil Health Partnership is a farmer-led initiative that promotes the adoption of soil health practices for economic and environmental benefit. A program of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the partnership extends to more than 200 working farms in 16 states. While building a peer-to-peer network, SHP collects on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of soil health practices on the soil, the environment, and the farmer’s bottom line. For more information, visit https://soilhealthpartnership.org.

Media Contact:
Stacie McCracken, SHP Communications Lead,

Mike Buis

Type of Operation:
Mike, with his brother Jeff, farms 3,100 acres. Most of the cropland is in a corn-soybean or corn-soybean-wheat rotation.

View on Soil Health:
Conservation Compliance provisions require Mike, who grow crops on highly erodible land (HEL), to use conservation practices to be eligible for federal programs such as disaster assistance, conservation programs, or crop insurance premium subsidies. Although he is not required to do so, he’s added cover crops to his HEL land to ensure he is going above and beyond to minimize soil erosion.

Reason for Joining Soil Health Partnership:
He began working with the Soil Health Partnership in 2016 to experiment with cover crops.

Trials Partnered with SHP on:
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.

His trial is featured in the Benefits of Cover Crops Business Case.

Other Soil Health Practices Being Implemented:

Mike has about 1/3 of his acres in no-till and 1/3 in minimal tillage. He also expanded the acres he plants cover crops beyond his SHP research field.

Advantages Experienced Using New Soil Health Practices:
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.

Justin Knopf

Justin Knopf believes the better the soil is functioning, the better the relationship between the plants and the soil biology, resulting in healthier crops. He is invested in building better soil on his farm in Gypsum, Kansas where he grows wheat, corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, alfalfa and triticale with his dad and brother.

Justin needs the soil to be functioning well to effectively capture rain in heavy rainfall events, to prevent erosion, and also to store water to make it available when plants need it.

He is conducting an enhanced practice trial on their SHP plot over five that will consist of adding a cover crop to any open window between grain crops compared to the same system with no cover crops.

This research will allow Justin to compare how extending the growing season with cover crops, and how maintaining living roots in their soils for a longer period each year affects their unique crop rotation.

Justin has already seen enhanced soil biology with the presence of living roots throughout the year along with increased diversity and more opportunity to capture carbon and put it into the soil.

06. Jay Watson – Why Soil Health is a Win-Win-Win Situation

General Mills is a consumer packaged goods company that puts their money where their mouth is, according to Soil Health Partnership Director John Mesko.  The company was an early funder of SHP and continues to work hand in hand with farmers to create economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

In this episode, Jay Watson, Sourcing Sustainability Engagement Manager for General Mills, chats with Mesko about why General Mills is so invested in this work.

“It’s the right thing to do,” states Watson. “We see the promise of soil health and what it can do for farmers and what it can do for our whole food system. We have a responsibility to be a catalyst for some of the change that we think is needed in society.”

General Mills also understands that investing in farmers is the right thing to do for their business. Their motto, “Food the World Loves,” includes helping the world love the way their food is grown.

General Mills focuses on soil health because it is a great intersection of practices that contribute to significant environmental sustainability and practices that create substantial economic sustainability for farmers. Although SHP is heavily invested in corn and soybean farms and farmers, General Mills is helping with an expansion of considerable involvement with wheat as a cash crop as well.

“We are big buyers of wheat, so we wanted to take the SHP model to big wheat growing regions. It’s important to us because we want to advance soil health where our supply chain is,” Watson said.

To Watson, the SHP model includes demonstrations and a lot of peer-to-peer learning.  Now, farmers in the program experimenting with wheat as a cash crop will be able to help their peers understand how a wheat system can work for them on their Kansas and Minnesota farms.

“If you can change the way that you see things, there’s an opportunity to unlock new potential,” states Watson .

Tune in to this full podcast with Jay Watson of General Mills below.

01. Dr. Maria Bowman – Economic Benefits of a Wheat Cover Crop

In the first episode of The People of Soil Health podcast, we sat down with Dr. Maria Bowman, the Lead Scientist at the Soil Health Partnership, to discuss her findings as she analyzes the data gathered on cover crops.

Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Maria learned about farming, the contributions that farmers give to the rural economy, and the passion they had for their land. Her soil health passion stemmed from the connection of water quality and the soil. As she learned more about the roles farmers and land stewardship played in improving water quality, she became more interested in soil health.

In this episode, John Mesko and Maria discuss how SHP is measuring the economic benefits of cover crops to identify immediate changes and long term improvements.

“In order to make cover crops a more widespread practice to adopt, they need to be economically feasible for the farmer. By measuring these other impacts, whether they be economic or environmental outcomes, we are working to make sure we are capturing the whole picture,” said Maria.

John and Maria discuss an SHP business case involving Indiana farmer Mike Buis, an SHP farmer, who adopted cover crops on several fields, including his SHP research field. With the added weed control seen in the SHP plot, Mike started expanding his cover crop usage. Due to his location in highly erodible land, it was a priority to have a cost-effective product while also retaining his topsoil. In terms of his trial, Mike saw a higher organic matter in his cover crop strips than on his control strips. Profitability came in the form of weed control as a result of the added residue giving him added ground cover. This saved on average about ten dollars an acre in reduced herbicide use.

The pair also talks about the new SHP field check protocol, where SHP Field Managers try to quantify the weed and pest pressure advantages seen when using cover crops. Field Managers will measure points throughout the year to help brainstorm new ways to improve sustainability techniques, making them more feasible for farmers. This will help quantify the results we have been seeing with these practices.

SHP publishes business cases to help convey that soil health practices are feasible and showcase measurable benefits. Visit our collection of business cases.

National Wheat Yield Contest Helping to Build Understanding of Wheat’s Impact on Soil Health

Did you know Roughly 75% of U.S. wheat acres are grown in dry regions, and the crop has proven to be adaptable to minimum till or no-till. Check out our latest blog to learn why wheat is an attractive crop for farmers looking to improve soil health.

The National Wheat Foundation’s National Wheat Yield Contest just completed its fourth year, receiving nearly 400 entries. NWF’s Yield Contest is focused on the productivity and profitability of wheat for U.S. wheat growers. Its primary goal is to improve the overall quality and marketability of the U.S. crop.

The Contest is gathering management data points and working with wheat extension agronomists at several public ag universities. Eventually, there will be enough data points and knowledge gained to help agronomists develop an improved best management practice for wheat production specific to region and class of wheat.

Wheat is an attractive crop for growers to consider and understand because of its potential from a soil health perspective. How does wheat improve soil health that will benefit other crops in the growers’ crop rotation? Some of wheat’s uniqueness includes the following:

  1. Roughly 75% of U.S. wheat acres are grown in dry regions. The crop has proven to be adaptable to minimum till or no-till.
  2. Wheat responds well to “just-in-time” crop inputs, allowing “in-crop” fertility which reduces runoff, maximizes uptake and allows better efficiency of inputs and management of costs.
  3. Winter wheat serves as a great cover crop to keep nutrients in the field and may improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter.
  4. Spring wheat is a good rotation crop, allowing farmers to break up disease cycles and control weeds by rotating chemistries.

Wheat is a food crop, which makes grain quality of utmost importance. With half of all wheat grown in the U.S. serving the export market, wheat farmers must make quality a top priority to maintain demand and compete with other low-cost, wheat producing countries. The impact of soil health on wheat quality needs to be understood to help growers preserve its demand both in the U.S. and abroad.