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.
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.
Kris Ethridge is an Area Resource Conservationist for NRCS in Manhattan KS, where he also serves as the Area Soil Health Team leader. He has worked for NRCS in both Kansas and Nebraska, in various positions, since receiving his Master’s Degree in Agronomy/Soil Science from Kansas State University in 2002. A native of Kansas, Kris remains actively engaged in production agriculture in northcentral Kansas.
Sheldon L. Hightower, a native of Ada, Oklahoma, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Business, with a minor in Crop & Soil Science in 1999 from Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma.
Sheldon began his career under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Student Career Employment Program in 1996, as a student trainee in Oklahoma and Minnesota. He worked as a Soil Conservationist in Minnesota for two years. In 2002, Sheldon was selected as the District Conservationist in Ulysses, Kansas. In 2003, he also served as Acting Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Coordinator and District Conservationist in Hugoton, Kansas. In 2005, Sheldon was transferred to Emporia, Kansas to serve as an Area Resource Conservationist and also served four years as the Black Emphasis Program Manager. In 2008, he was transferred to Hutchinson, Kansas and continued to serve as an Area Resource Conservationist.
Sheldon served as Acting National Grassland Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Program Manager, Washington, D.C. in 2009; and as Acting Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in Pennsylvania in 2010. In 2010, Sheldon was selected for Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in New York and served as the Lake Ontario Coordinator for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He was also assigned a two year appointment as Chair of the New York Civil Rights Advisory Committee. In 2013, Sheldon was detailed as Acting State Conservationist of Nevada.
Sheldon has been serving as the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations in Hutchinson, Kansas for the past 4 years. He is responsible for the 28 south central and western counties in Kansas NRCS Administrative Area 2. Sheldon serves on the National Civil Rights Advisory Committee to the Chief, serves on the Tri-State Leadership Development Board (TLDP), and is also a member of the Kansas Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
Sheldon is a life member of the National Organization of Professional Black NRCS Employees and serves on the Executive Board. He has served on the Election and Budget committees; and was President of the Kansas Chapter.
Larry Manhart and his family farm approximately 3,000 acres of cropland and 1,000 acres of grass, with wheat, corn and fallow rotation (with a cover crop planted during the fallow year).
We have a goal of eliminating tillage and minimizing soil disturbance in our operation. We started no-till practices about 20 years ago and have experimented with cover crops in the last 10 years, gradually trying a few new ideas and practices each year (as conditions allow). We have planted many multi-species mixes for cover and have also began grazing some fields that had previously been fallow. Soil testing to monitor organic matter and other soil health factors has been encouraging, understanding that this is a long-term process with—hopefully—small steps in the right direction every year.
With healthy soil practices we have seen soil test results suggesting higher fertility and improving soil health. Cash crops seem to “hang on” longer during extended drought periods. There are more consistent crop yields throughout individual fields and across the farm (less variability). There are awesome daily gains grazing feeder cattle on a cover mix and very good weed suppression with covers.
Anita Dille is a professor of Weed Ecology at Kansas State University. She conducts research to understand emergence, growth, competition and seedbank characteristics of important weed species in Kansas and uses that information to evaluate how cover crops, herbicide programs and tillage can be combined within integrated weed management programs for their control. Anita received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Crop Science (weed science) at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and her Ph.D. in Agronomy (weed science) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has been teaching Weed Science courses and conducting research in the Agronomy Department at Kansas State University since 2000.
Dan Gillespie serves as a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service No-till Specialist in the Norfolk, Nebraska, Field Office. After graduating from Battle Creek High School and attending UNL he has been farming since 1974.
After first trying no-till in 1986, Dan has been 27 years continuous no-till since 1991 in his irrigated and dryland cash grain corn/soybean operation.
In 2005 Dan began seeding cover crops following soybeans to improve erosion control. Realizing that cover crops have many more benefits, he has implemented continuous cover crops since 2013. Continuous cover crops have dramatically reduced runoff, erosion and ephemeral gully problems in his HEL fields. Soil organic matter has almost doubled and soil health has greatly improved with the integration of cover crops. Planting green into living cover crops has the potential to increase soil health benefits even more.
Participating in no-till workshops and field days, Dan can be seen presenting the Rainfall Simulator Demonstration to kick off the events. The Rainfall Simulator is a graphic demonstration of the benefits of retaining residue cover and preventing the damaging impact of raindrops or irrigation water falling on bare soils. Farmers often experience an aha moment when they see how little rainfall actually infiltrates a soil profile when the bare surface is sealed by pounding water droplets.
Daniel Schultz is a fourth generation farmer from northwest Kansas. He has been a student of no-till since 1992 and realizes that he will never have all the answers. His stewardship for his soil has made it happy, alive and healthier.
Why I believe soil health is important
First, one has to define soil health. I believe it is too complex to sum up in two words. As farmers, we have an obligation to be stewards of the resources we use such as soil, water and air. With continuous no-till, crop diversity and rotation we can improve our soil and its health. It takes a commitment of time, education and desire from within. And with doing all of this, remain profitable.
Why should we make soil health a priority?
I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself. Each person and farm has different ideas. But I do believe we all can be better stewards. We are not taking care of our resources with diligence.
“The nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Soil is a living ecosystem, and is a farmer’s most precious asset. A farmer’s productive capacity is directly related to the health of his or her soil.”—Howard Warren Buffett
Darrin Unruh grew up on a farm in Reno County Kansas running a 4010 John Deere tractor pulling a 4 bottom plow. Since then he has come full circle in terms of his views about soil health.
I took my first Holistic Resource management course in the early 90s and I have been involved in everything in agriculture from owning a commercial spray business to running a stocker/feeder calf operation. I’m currently working for Kauffman Seeds with a focus on forages, cover crop blends and soil health. I also manage a pellet mill making range cubes for cows, utilizing in part the screenings from the cover crop seeds that Kauffman Seeds produces. My brother Stacy and I have a farming partnership and manage approximately 770 acres. We have a cow/calf operation and are focused on flex grazing to improve our soils. We graze several different kinds of forages, including native range, improved cool season perennials and annual diverse cover crop blends with a focus on improving the biology of the soil. We also have some alfalfa ground that we use as a cash crop. I currently serve on the board of directors for the Kansas Forage and Grasslands Council as well as the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance. I live in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, with my wife, Carmon, and our two high school age daughters, Pepper and Gabi.
Why I believe soil health is important
The health and well-being of everything from our livestock to wildlife to our own human health all starts with the biological health of the soil.
Why we should make soil health a priority
To have a more healthy, profitable and enjoyable life.
What has been your toughest challenge in building soil health to date?
Learning to be patient. Nature works on her own time frame.
What is keeping soil health from being utilized on every acre of farmland in the U.S.?
A misperception and a misunderstanding of what a biological system means and what it can do for your own operation. Once you have an understanding of a biological system vs. a chemical system, it becomes a lot easier to make the transition.
Scott and Andrew Sigle are co-owners of Cheyenne Trail Ranch LLC, a farming and cow-calf operation in southeast Osborne County, Kansas. Scott and Andrew believe that soil health has a direct impact on the bottom line and therefore make it a priority in their operation. The farming side of the operation has been in long-term no-till and greatly benefits from the use of cover/grazing crops. The grass side of the operation has recently been converted from a traditional grazing system to a MIG system with the addition of many miles of high-tensile fence and waterlines.
Trying to capitalize on the knowledge learned when developing their own land, Andrew has started a secondary business of helping others design and install grazing/watering systems.
Nick Ward is president of Ward Laboratories Inc., Kearney, Nebraska. Originally from Wamego, Kansas, Nick received his B.S. and M.S. in Agronomy from Kansas State University in 2007 and 2010, respectively. His master’s work focused on phosphorus fertilizers and fertilizer enhancement products. In August 2015, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focusing on active crop sensors for use in nitrogen management in irrigated environments. At Ward Labs, Nick focuses on day-to-day operations of the lab as well as working with customers to better understand and use their laboratory test results. Nick has closely followed no-till practices and applications since his days at KSU.
Darrell Kaiser graduated in 1994 from Kansas State University with a degree in Agribusiness and started farming in 1995.
His is a third generation farmer with his wife, Frina, and sons Luke, 17, Dalton, 15, and Trevor, 13.
Darrell has served on Gove County Soil Conservation Board for 17 years and is a founding member of “Living Acres” (a local soil health team), an American Angus Association member, Kansas Angus Association member, Kansas Livestock Association member and KSU alumni lifetime member.
He has been continuously no-till since 1996 with a diverse crop mix: corn, soybean, wheat, sunflowers, forage sorghum, rye and cover crop.
Soil health is the cornerstone (building block) of plant life. Organic matter and residue protecting the soil surface feed the soil microbes (underground livestock), which in turn results in soil nutrient cycling and nutrient availability for plant uptake. The bovine grazing component adds one more diversification, which mimics nature’s cycle.
Doug Manhart grew up on a farm, moved away for college and jobs, and came back five years ago. He feeds cattle through the winter and raises wheat and corn. Doug is determined to do what is necessary to prevent having to return to tillage to control weeds.
Soil health is important because it takes tremendous time to build and minutes to destroy. To me, soil health may be a way to get more out of your inputs in tough economic times.
Soil health is a priority because it is the foundation of our farm. It appears to be a variable that improves your bottom line in all conditions and circumstances.
Challenges include resistant weed pressure and how to measure if we are making progress. I feel we are on the right track, but do I know for sure? Habits. The “that’s what we did last year” mentality. Uncertainty about new and seemingly unproven methods.
Jeremy Wilson is the owner and manager of the Wilson Farm, raising corn, spring wheat and soybeans in a long-term no-tillage system utilizing a number of different cover crops.
Jeremy has been named a “Master Farmer” by Dakota Farmer Magazine and “Educator of the Year” and “Soil Health Award” winner by the Stutsman County Soil Conservation District along with the prestigious Stutsman County Soil Conservation Award.
Jeremy is a true ambassador for agriculture, hosting many farm tours, speaking at events and sharing what he has learned to help others improve soils on their farms, and serving on numerous volunteer boards.
Along with farming and volunteering, Jeremy and his wife, Sarah, are raising their three children, Charlotte, Molly, and Samuel, ages 6 to 11.
Lauren Krizansky believes soil health is pivotal to produce healthy foods and to foster a resilient, living farm environment, one that includes the human being. On farms that practice proactive soil health fundamentals, the crops are vigorous and water use is efficient. Synthetic inputs and chemicals are vastly reduced, which make way for insect and microbial populations to thrive. Disease pressures disappear and product quality improves while available resources evolve. These farms celebrate agriculture. These farms are proof healthy soil is the key to maintaining productivity, and that its side effects contribute positively to the overall farm system.
Every person has the choice to learn about their farm and food system. The growing network of soil health practitioners, agro-ecological researchers and educated consumers is motivating farms across the U.S. to evaluate their management practices, which is resulting in the changes needed to protect and improve agriculture. Reductionist theory is a dominant force in agricultural sciences. It often provides an immediate solution to an isolated symptom of an illness that healthy soils can cure.
Soil health today is an alternative, but in the future it will become a necessity. Building bridges between the farmer, the scientist, the politician, the corporation and the consumer will create more and more opportunities for soil health to become the norm in modern agriculture.
Ray Ward is president and co-owner of Ward Laboratories, Inc. He is ARCPACS certified Professional Soil Scientist with a Ph.D. in Soil Fertility from South Dakota State University, 1972. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees from University of Nebraska 1959 and 1961. Before founding Ward Laboratories, Inc. in Kearney he served as lab division manager of Servi-Tech, Inc in Dodge City, Kansas; associate professor at Oklahoma State University; and assistant professor and instructor at South Dakota State University.
He holds numerous memberships in scientific and honorary academic societies and organizations. Ray has received many awards including the Soil Science Industry Award and Soil Science Professional Service Award from Soil Science Society of America in 2005 and 2007, respectively. He received the J. Benton Jones, Jr. Award, which was presented to him at the 12th International Symposium on Soil and Plant Analysis, Chania, Greece, June 9, 2011. He received the Henry Beachell Distinguished Alumni Award from the Nebraska Ag Alumni 2016.
His goals for agriculture and agronomy are to help production agriculture use its resources as efficiently as possible, to provide information and data for developing soil health for the best use of soil and water resources while maintaining environmental quality, to be involved in “value-added” agriculture and to provide accurate laboratory data for managing productions enterprises.
Robin Griffeth deals in solar energy as well as water management. His solar collectors are living plants. The water comes from rainfall, which is also managed with living plants.
I am better known as a farmer. Deb and I have been married for 42 years. Our two sons and one daughter have given us nine grandchildren.
We have spent our entire lives in this farming thing and I am as everyone else: “I want to leave the land better than I found it.”
(But is it really better than I found it, or did that phrase just make me feel better about myself?)
So there began the “soil health” journey: 44 years farming, 22 of which have been no-till, and 15 years double crop or cover crop.
I truly believe that a living plant must be in the soil as much as possible. The balance between soil health and commodity production must be achieved.
Scott and Andrew Sigle are co-owners of Cheyenne Trail Ranch LLC, a farming and cow-calf operation in southeast Osborne County, Kansas. Scott and Andrew believe that soil health has a direct impact on the bottom line and therefore make it a priority in their operation. The farming side of the operation has been in long-term no-till and greatly benefits form the use of cover/grazing crops. The grass side of the operation has recently been converted from a traditional grazing system to a MIG system with the addition of many miles of high-tensile fence and waterlines.
Dean Krehbiel is state resource conservationist for the Kansas Natural Resources Conservation Service.
What is soil health and how do we measure it?
The NRCS defines soil quality as “the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation.” For people active in production agriculture, it may mean highly productive land, sustaining or enhancing productivity, maximizing profits, and/or maintaining the soil resource for future generations.
Soil is more than just dirt. It does several things, including:
• Regulates water. Soil helps control where rain, snowmelt and irrigation water goes. Water and dissolved solutes flow over the land or into and through the soil.
• Sustains plant and animal life. The diversity and productivity of living things depends on soil.
• Filters potential pollutants. Soil minerals and microbes are responsible for filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilizing, and detoxifying organic and inorganic materials, including industrial and municipal by-products, plus atmospheric deposits.
• Cycles nutrients. Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients are stored, transformed, and cycled in the soil.
• Physical stability and support. Soil structure provides a medium for plant roots. Soils also provide support for human structures and protection for archeological treasures.
The six components of soil quality/soil health management:
Choosing specific practices within each component depends on the situation, since different types of soil respond differently to the same practice. Each combination of soil type and land use calls for a different set of practices to enhance soil quality.
1. Enhance organic matter: Whether soil is naturally high or low in organic matter, adding new organic matter every year is perhaps the most important way to improve and maintain soil quality.
2. Avoid excessive tillage: Reducing tillage minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue.
3. Manage pests and nutrients efficiently: An important function of soil is to buffer and detoxify chemicals, but soil’s capacity for detoxification is limited.
4. Prevent soil compaction: Compaction reduces the amount of air, water, and space available to roots and soil organisms. Compaction is caused by repeated traffic, heavy traffic, or traveling on wet soil.
5. Keep the ground covered: Bare soil is susceptible to wind and water erosion as well as drying and crusting. Ground cover protects soil, provides habitats for larger soil organisms (such as insects and earthworms) and can improve water availability.
6. Diversify cropping systems: Each plant contributes a unique root structure and type of residue to the soil. A diversity of soil organisms can help control pest populations and a diversity of cultural practices can reduce weed and disease pressures.
Soil is a living and life-giving natural resource.
By farming and ranching using sound soil health principles and systems, farmers and ranchers can increase their soil’s organic matter, sequester more carbon, increase water infiltration, improve water quality, and improve wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields.
Regardless of your farm and ranch objectives, the foundation for long-term food and fiber production and a healthy environment depends upon well cared-for and resilient soils.
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, 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.
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, 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.”
“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 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 a 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 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.”
“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.”
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, producer and entrepreneur from Holton, Kansas, is a longtime 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.
Shane 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 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 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 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 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.
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 is a third-generation Colorado potato farmer showing producers across the globe how to improve farm health with biotic methods.
The 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 Farms 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.
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.