Educational Speakers

A 2-day event providing high-quality instruction to teach High Plains farmers and ranchers how to sustainably maximize profit from every acre of land.

Shawn Tiffany

Shawn Tiffany

Shawn Tiffany co-owns Tiffany Cattle Company in Herington, Kansas, with his brother Shane. It is a 15,000-head cattle feedyard that grows and finishes high-quality cattle. The business has earned the Certified Angus Beef Feedlot Commit to Excellence award several times.

Shawn Tiffany manages the business’s farmland, which includes an innovative soil health strategy that uses both no-till and cover crops, on which cattle graze. To alleviate compaction caused by grazing cattle, the Tiffanys do some light tillage on grazed ground.

Soil health is a big part of the operation’s focus.

“Soil health means sustainability, profitability, economics, lines of business for our customers and something for my children to look forward to in the future. Because if I am not taking care of the soil today there is not going to be a whole lot left to pass on to them,” Shawn said.

Dale Strickler

Dale Strickler

Dale Strickler, agronomist at Green Cover Seed, lives near Jamestown, Kansas, where he runs a cowherd and studies cropping systems using cover crops and grazing to build soil health. He grew up on a diversified farm near Colony, Kansas, and attended Kansas State University, earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agronomy.

A former agronomy instructor at the collegiate level, Dale’s grazing operation is a living laboratory of annual and perennial pastures, plus cover crop fields that allow greater productivity at reduced costs, all while improved soil health. He is a frequent speaker to farmers and ranchers, and enjoys the opportunity to share with producers how to think through the challenges of their particular farm or ranch.

Ben Cramer

Ben Cramer

Since 2005, Ben Cramer of Healy, Kansas, has embarked upon a road to soil health that began with the adoption of no-till, and has since included cover crops. Cramer has a livestock enterprise that uses the cover crops, with a long-term goal of rapidly building organic matter and soil biology, plus reducing use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.

“Soil health is important in many ways including being essential to our ability to raise the abundant healthy food supply our consumers deserve and are beginning to demand,” Cramer said. “After 100-plus years of degrading the land we need to make soil health a priority to put carbon back in the soil where it belongs.”

Paul Jasa

Paul Jasa

Paul Jasa, Extension Engineer with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, develops and conducts educational programs related to crop production that improve profitability, build soil health, and reduce risks to the environment. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Nebraska and has worked with planting equipment and tillage system evaluation at the University since 1978. He works with soil and water conservation, residue management, crop rotations, cover crops and soil health.

Paul is a go-to resource on no-till planting equipment and system management to protect and build soil. He admits if there is a mistake to be made with no-till, he has either made it himself or has seen it done. He has learned from those mistakes and shares that information in presentations that stress the systems approach and the long-term benefits of continuous no-till.

“Soil health is important for healthy crops and reducing risks to the environment,” he said. ” Healthy soil has good, aggregated soil structure that allows water and root penetration and air exchange. The biological life in the soil processes previous roots and residues, making nutrients available for the next crop. It also makes nutrients more available from the soil and any applied fertilizers. Beneficial soil life usually outnumbers destructive soil life, reducing the potential for crop damage from insects and diseases because of the natural cycling of predators and prey. A biologically active soil with living roots feeding the soil system is the key for soil health. A well-structured healthy soil, protected with residue or growing vegetation, is more resilient and more productive.

“We must make soil health a priority to have a resilient soil system and produce better crops in the future.”

Mike Bredeson

Mike Bredeson

As a Ph.D. student with Ecdysis Foundation and South Dakota State University, Mike Bredeson researches regenerative agricultural systems to push the envelope in the quest for more profitable and resilient food production. “We study how interseeding cover crops into established corn fields impacts pest and beneficial insect communities,” Bredeson said. “Incorporating cover crops into the crop rotation has already proved to be a successful way of diversifying the farming landscape. However, cash crops are still typically planted as monocultures. Diversifying monocultures by establishing cover crops during the growing season is the future of row cropping. This practice holds great promise not just for pest management, but for a multitude of agronomic and environmental benefits.”
Bredeson said without functioning soil, we cannot exist, period. “Productive soils are living, breathing bodies which are the foundation for filtering water, growing nutritious food, cleaning air, sequestering and purifying contaminants. If we choose to treat our soils like mines, unsustainably extracting materials and destroying structure which maintains life, then the services and functions which soil provides to us will disappear.
“If we, as stewards of the land, prioritize conservation and mimicking nature in our food production systems, healthy soil will provide us with what we need to have a bright future,” he said.
Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson began incorporating cover crops on his farm near Almena, Kansas in 2009, embarking upon a road to soil health that results in diverse feed for the farm’s beef cow/calf operation and improved soil productivity. Cover crops replace summer fallow on all his acres, with rotational grazing used to maintain as much groundcover as possible and limit compaction. The Thompsons focus on grazing and cover crops and keeping growing crop on farmland, practices that have helped them grow organic matter to 3 percent and keep chemical resistant weeds at bay.
Using practices that promote soil health is essential, because all farm and ranch income starts with the soil. A well-functioning soil will produce good yields and provide plenty of forage no matter the weather. If it was not for eliminating summer fallow and building the cowherd, Michael said he would not have had a place on the farm.

“I am passionate about soil health because better treatment of the soil leads to more profit and a healthier environment,” he said. “We need to look at soil as more than just a medium to plant into. When we start to focus on what the soil needs we can be more productive and more profitable. We need to treat the soil as more than just dirt.”

W. Carter Johnson

W. Carter Johnson

W. Carter Johnson, Ph.D., is retired Distinguished Professor of Ecology at South Dakota State University. A graduate of Augustana College and North Dakota State University, he has worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee and at Virginia Tech. Johnson has published 125 peer-reviewed research papers and book chapters during his career on the subject of plant ecology—the relationship between plants and the environment.
He has received national awards for his research on the effects of dams on forest vegetation along the Missouri and Platte Rivers. The National Research Council has appointed him to four expert panels, two on the Missouri River, and one each on the Platte and Columbia Rivers.
Johnson has consulted for government and industry to solve practical problems involving environmental and ecological issues. Most recently, he and three colleagues formed the non-profit EcoSun Prairie Farms in South Dakota, to demonstrate on a working farm how to make a living from growing and marketing products from restored tall grass prairie in eastern South Dakota.
Lucinda Hardesty Stuenkel

Lucinda Hardesty Stuenkel

Lucinda Hardesty Stuenkel of Palmer, Kansas, boosts soil health on her farm near Palmer, Kansas, by using holistic management techniques such as integrating multi-species plantings, multi-species grazing and more regenerative agriculture, with an aim of growing more nutritious plants and livestock.
Stuenkel became became manager of her farm after the untimely death of her husband and brother-in-law in a vehicle accident. She sought a way for women and children to farm, using techniques that helped them farm with less muscle. She uses methods of gentle animal care so livestock choose to act in a mutually beneficial manner.
“Imagine how much more abundant everything will be by working with nature instead of against it,” she said. “We know if we rest our pastures between grazing episodes that we have more than twice as much forage. We know when we support the soil microorganisms by reduced tillage and no chemical sterilization from fertilizers/herbicides/pesticides that our soil nutrient levels rise off the charts. We know there is a synergistic effect from planting different varieties of plants beside each other that far outweighs the financial and biological cost of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides.”
Ted & Brian Alexander

Ted & Brian Alexander

Alexander Ranch, located in Barber County, Kansas, aims to manage all integrated resources in order to maximize the production of protein, shape a harmonious existence with nature and maintain economic viability.

Ted Alexander spent the early years of his life on the Skinner Ranch north of Lake City, Kansas, moving to southwestern Missouri at the start of high school. He earned undergraduate degrees at Southwest Missouri State College, a master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma and taught at the university level before returning to the Skinner Ranch, along Highway 160 between Medicine Lodge and Coldwater in south central Kansas.

His son, Brian, returned to the ranch in 2006 and now manages the day-to-day operations. Ted’s daughter, Mona, pursues a career in the United State Air Force.

Different types of grazing systems have been implemented to increase production of the desirable forages, control rest, recovery periods and degree of forage use. Brian is an early adapter of “PastureMap,” which allows the use of an iPad to keep grazing records.

Ted Alexander has received numerous accolades and awards for his years of conservation work in the Red Hills and beyond. He has opened his ranch for field tours for local, state, and national organizations for many years. He has given many presentations about holistic land management. The focus of his life’s work in ranching has always related to soil health and the improvement of the prairie ecosystem.

 

Shane New

Shane New

Shane New, producer and entrepreneur from Holton Kansas, is a long time no-tiller who integrates cover crops into his diverse cropping and livestock operation. A graduate of Kansas State University and an active member of the Holton community, Shane has hosted several field days and shares his knowledge of what works, plus what hasn’t worked on his farm.

Soil Health U Shane NewShane believes that through good soil health we will achieve good human and animal health. Believing that producers should gain the understanding of the natural system, one which didn’t require any synthetic inputs, producers should begin improving the overall health of the soil and practice biomimicry, thus allowing the system to return to its more natural state.

Shane says the level of sedimentation being deposited into our rivers, streams and lakes is unsustainable. “We cannot keep kicking the can down the road any longer,” he said. “Our actions now on fixing soil health is the most important thing for the future of generations to come.”

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Mark Watson farms with his brother, Bruce, and his son, John, on the farm near Alliance, Nebraska, which has been in the family since 1891. The farm was honored as Master Conservationists in Production Agriculture by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2007.

According to Watson, modern agriculture has focused on soil conservation practices for some time, emphasizing minimizing soil erosion within modern agricultural production practices. No-till crop production proved to be a top modern practice at minimizing the destructive forces of wind and water erosion. Recently the focus has begun to shift from minimizing the degradation of the soil toward regenerative agriculture and improving the productivity of the soil which we work with.

“As we all head down this path of improving soil health, the benefits of improving the productivity of the soil is obvious to our bottom line,” he said. “As the soil we work with begins to move towards a healthier and functioning soil, the profitability of our farms will follow. Our journey down the pathway towards soil health will be an exciting one, which we can share for generations to come. I look forward to visiting with you about the possibilities of improving soil health on your farm and will share with you the steps we have taken on the path towards soil health on our own farm.”

Mark graduated from University of Nebraska with a B.S. in Agronomy. He and his wife, Denise, have two children, Jacob and Hannah.

David Brandt

David Brandt

David Brandt farms 950 no-till acres in Fairfield County in central Ohio. He began no-till farming in 1971 and has been using cover crops since 1978. David has participated in yield plots for corn, soybeans, and wheat into various covers, sharing this information with seed growers, county agents and universities to encourage other farmers to adopt no-till practices. He has also been planting various blends of cover crops to find out what benefits they provide to improve soil health. David is co-owner of Walnut Creek Seeds, LLC with his son and daughter-in-law, Jay and Ann Brandt.

David has had articles published in several farm magazines, and has collaborated with researchers at many universities. Presently he is working with Randall Reeder and Rafiq Islam on reducing input costs of fertilizers and herbicides using various cover crops which improve soil health. The results of this study have been published in the International Soil and Water Conservation Research journal (March 2014, Vol. 2, No. 1). He is also working with regional Natural Resources Conservation Service soils lab in Greensboro, North Carolina, on benefits of cover crops to improve soil health.

Brandt has earned numerous awards for conservation practices. He also is active in a host of associations and organizations.

Dan Forgey

Dan Forgey

Dan Forgey has been with Cronin Farms for 47 years and is the farm’s cropping foreman. As the farm has integrated soil-health practices in the last 24 years, Dan said mistakes have been made, but Cronin Farms is gaining and learning from them. In tillage for 23 years, Cronin Farms planted 75 percent of its acres and left 25 percent as black fallow. The farm has used no-till practices for 23 years, and has seen the the soil come alive due to diversified rotations and cover crops and most recently, working cattle into the no-till system through cover crops. In 2016, Cronin’s planted 11 cash crops and 3 forage crops in 2016.

Dan believes that if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. He attributes much of the farm’s success to the teachings of Dwayne Beck. Cronin Farms also is a big user of precision agriculture with 85 percent of its acres VRA. A healthy soil, he said, will pay farmers back three-fold if you let it. It takes time and doing the right thing, but the best time to start is today.

“The soil is alive. We need to let it do what it has been doing for years before we messed it up,” Dan said. “We have to be thinking of the generation to come. Being sustainable has got to be a priority in our farm and ranching operations.”

 

Brendon Rockey

Brendon Rockey

Brendon Rockey is a third-generation Colorado potato farmer showing producers across the globe how to improve farm health with biotic methods.

Soil-Health-U-Coverage-Brendon-RockeyThe focus of his approach is life. On Rockey Farms, biological inputs like companion crops, livestock, green manure and flower strips replace synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. His system sustains yields, has greater water efficiency and supports a flourishing ecosystem encouraging beneficial insects, soil microbes and carbon cycling. In addition to managing the farm’s annual potato crop, Rockey grows quinoa, flax and lentils, and welcomes local cows, sheep and bees to graze green manure and flowering fields.

Rockey Soil-Health-U-Cattle-Brendon-RockeyFarms also produces year-round certified seed potatoes in its greenhouse. Three crops originating from potato plant tissue cultured in the farm’s lab are grown annually. Brendon uses biologically amended potting soil to promote crop health and uniformity, and flowering companion crops to create beneficial insect habitat, which serves as his main form of insect management.

Brendon is a National Association of Conservation District Soil Health Champion and Colorado Certified Potato Growers Association board member. He devotes his time to many local, national and international soil health focused organizations through speaking events and workshops. In 2014, Rockey Farms was awarded the National Potato Council Environmental Stewardship Award for its practices. In 2011, the farm was recognized with the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts Farming Division Conservationist of the Year Award.Soil-Health-U-Cover-Brendon-Rockey

Brendon believes soil health is the foundation of a healthy farm and food system. Soil health is the key to an efficient agroecosystem, one that reaps economic benefits while providing a nutritious, safe product for the consumer. For all these reasons, soil health is a priority. Healthy soils. Healthy farms. Healthy people.

 

 

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