Alex Schaffer was on hand at the Soil Regen LLC Big Soil Health Event (Photo: Julia Edlefson/Iowa Soybean Association).
Big soil, big potential
December 15, 2022 | Kriss Nelson
Soil Regen, LLC hosted its annual Big Soil Health Event earlier this month with a mission to provide farmer-first education, training and networking to increase soil health and function, quality of life and a return on investment.
The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) were among the event’s sponsors that hosted nearly 500 farmers and ag-industry leaders.
Evan Brehm, ISA conservation agronomist, says 30 states were represented at the event, with most of the attendees from Iowa.
“Every farmer we interacted with was excited to hear ISA’s support of the future for soil health and conservation,” he says. “While many opportunities will continue to present themselves, there seemed to be two areas in which ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) can help Iowa soybean farmers regarding soil health – cover crops and nutrient cycling and relay cropping.”
Brehm says farmers shared they want to plant cover crops after a cash crop harvest, but they want to feel confident they are cycling nutrients in their field, which leads to a return on investment.
ISA can assist farmers with these concerns through biomass sampling and Haney Soil Health Tests.
Alex Schaffer, ISA field services program manager, says the RCFI team is planning to discuss the value of the Haney Soil Health Tests on ISA’s long-term cover crop strip trials.
“These are sites that have cover and no cover maintained for several years,” he says. “I think for what we currently have going on, our long-term cover crop sites are best suited for testing with a soil health evaluation such as the Haney test. Hopefully, measures like this will help us quantify some of what we think we know about the benefits of cover crops.”
Relay cropping, which is growing two cash crops simultaneously, was another discussion area where RCFI could contribute. A popular method for relay cropping in Iowa is cereal rye and soybeans.
“Growers like the idea, and many are set up to do so,” says Brehm. “With relay crop trials and data, we could instill confidence in our growers with answers they want to know.”
Adam Daughtry, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist from Coffee County, Tennessee, was one of the keynote speakers at the event, where he shared that all soil, no matter what condition, has the potential to be better.
“Our soil has the potential to be fully rejuvenated, no matter how degraded it is,” he says. “It is so simple. It has the ability, and that is what gives me hope.”
Coffee County, Tennessee, is one of the top counties in not only Tennessee but the nation as far as embracing and practicing conservation that improves soil health.
Daughtry has utilized his position with NRCS to get people on board to build a conservation community, network and learn from each other.
He believes it only takes four key ingredients to improve soil health:
“Why do we have these problems in agriculture? Is the sun any different than it was when it started shining? It hasn’t changed. How about the soil? It still has chemical and physical properties. Plants have always photosynthesized. What has changed? Us,” he says. “What can change again? Us.”
“Nature works,” says Daughtry. “Mother Nature had this figured out a long time ago. There are always basic principles to soil health; they are proven they work. You must keep the soil covered. It is just the way it is.”
Daughtry says it is important to understand the effects of tillage.
“Once you do, you will figure out how long it takes to restore it, how much effort it takes to restore it,” he says.”
Not only is there potential in rejuvenating soils, but there is potential for money in a rejuvenated soil system.
“I would put net profit per acre in that southern middle Tennessee region against anywhere in the country,” he says. “We are making money. That is important.”
The benefits of a rejuvenated soil system go beyond the pocketbook.
“It has a big effect on clean water – that is a potential for human health implications. There is no potential for that the other way,” he says. “There is potential in a rejuvenated, healthy, functioning soil health management system.”
James Hepp, an ISA farmer-member from Rockwell City, attended the two-day event. Hepp was impressed with the line-up of speakers and had a lot of information to take back to his Calhoun County farm.
“I wanted to learn more about cover crops,” he says. “I have had some successes but have a long way to go.”