The following content is from Ann Journey's January Soil Health Update. Ann is Minnesota's Soil Health Coordinator with the NRCS -ACES program (read about the ACES program here). Thanks to Ann for permission to share this information on the LWV UMRR Blog!
MN-NRCS Soil Health Update, January 2019
Ann Marie Journey – MN NRCS, ACES Soil Health Coordinator
Happy New Year!
As corks were popping, credit card companies started to send the happy missives detailing how far over budget we went last month. We already knew amounts due could shock. Mastercard SpendingPulse reported on Boxing Day that holiday spending from November 1 to December 24 topped $850 billion, up 5.1% from 2017, despite bad weather on key shopping days. Eleven zeroes are hard to digest, so per capita perspective helps. The Census Bureau pegged the US population at 328,192,898 on Christmas Eve, resulting in a more relatable $2,590 each. Wait—weren’t we expected to spend $885? Yes, on gifts. Toss in extras like food and home improvement, and we bent the plastic. With an average APR of 17.21%, motivation to pay the balance ASAP is self-evident. But, as we know after a few days of sit-ups, kale, earlier bedtimes or any of the other top 10 resolutions, good intentions rarely suffice. In 2017, Americans incurred a mean $1,054 in holiday credit card debt. Nearly 80% of respondents to a year-end survey said they’d need three or more months to resolve it; 10% expected to make minimum payments only. Before 2018’s last spree, 32% of loyalty-program respondents planned to PAYGO, while another 32% predicted pay-off within three months. Will those plans hold once the bills arrive?
We live in the Age of Debt. The National Debt approaches $22 trillion (total public debt outstanding). The Census Bureau tallied state debt at $1.2 trillion in 2016 (most recent data), which balloons to $5 trillion if underfunded pensions are included; local governments owed $1.8 trillion. US corporations carried $9.1 trillion by mid-2018, a 46% increase since 2007 and a higher fraction of GDP than the previous record, set at the nadir of the Great Recession. US households have also binge-borrowed, racking up $13.5 trillion by the end of September, $420 billion of which revolved month-to-month on credit cards. Total credit card debt stood at $944 billion, just below last year’s $1 trillion high. Nor is the US alone; the world collectively owes almost $250 trillion, 89% of its 2017 total wealth. But debt—which Merriam-Webster defines as “sin,” “obligation” and “a state of owing”—is fungible. It can be a burden or a tool. Its terms are subject to negotiation. A debt of scale can even be absolved, hence “too big to fail.” Monetary debt is therefore fuzzy; it carries a whiff of the unreal. (Don’t try to tell that to your lender!) Humanity, however, has accumulated a real, growing debt, one measured in carbon and payable to a banker not known for leniency. The bills are marked “Second Notice.” The top 2 meters of Earth’s soils have lost an estimated 116 billion metric tons of organic carbon since organized agriculture began 12,000 years ago, and cumulative SOC loss is rising in hockey-stick fashion as agricultural land use increases. Two-thirds of it may have gone into the atmosphere, where we least want it.
This soil carbon debt has also been identified as the potential soil carbon sink capacity, becoming a central element of climate change mitigation. A sink that could swallow three years of CO2 emissions (all sources) can’t be ignored. Unfortunately, its attainable size likely tops out between 50 and 66% of its potential due to physical, chemical and biological constraints, and its feasible size could be lower still. This is where humans re-enter. On one side, among others, is the 4 Per 1000 Initiative, an organization aiming to ”demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned.” Based on the calculation that a 0.4% annual rise in SOC would “halt the increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities,” 4 per 1000 “invites all partners to state or implement some practical actions on soil carbon storage and the type of practices to achieve this (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, landscape management, etc.).” On the other side sits every economic, technological, legal, social, political and logistical hurdle supporting the status quo, be it affirmatively, pragmatically or from a growing sense of futility. Asking farmers, foresters and other producers to realign their enterprises to the 0.4% goal is difficult without a means to value soil carbon. Change carries up-front costs. What’s SOC worth? Governments may not be able to incentivize at this scale, so how do we create a viable market for sequestered carbon? And should agriculture be under the responsibility microscope alone? City-dwellers use land and drive agricultural demand. We dug the carbon debt-pit together; digging out must also be a joint effort. Finally, while we’re thinking globally, take a moment to appreciate Bill Anders’ photo. There’s plenty of dirt in the foreground. Soil, biologically speaking, is restricted to the lovely blue orb in the background. Those who remember December 24, 1968 may recall the sense of awe this image generated, and the not-so-subtle dread that accompanied it. The Earth looked so tiny, so vulnerable…. In the fifty years since, humans have trod on lunar dirt six times, the last in December 1972. The Dark Side has now been reached, but lunar dirt is likely to remain just that for the foreseeable future. Terraforming is a heavy lift, even under a dense atmosphere, which the Moon lacks. Just ask the uncountable microorganisms who did it the first time, here. Soil health to lessen our carbon debt, lest the Earth foreclose upon it. There is no Planet B!
Click READ MORE for lots of information on many upcoming soil health events in our region!
Soil Health Events:
Incorporating Cover Crops Workshop
When: January 8.
Where: Clear Springs Cattle Company, 30819 250th St, Starbuck, MN 56381
Speakers include Jim Wulf, Brian Ryberg and Cody Nelson. Please RVSP by phone or text to 507-720-2998 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Chili supper will be served. See attached flyer for more information.
2019 University of Minnesota Research Updates for Ag Professionals
When: January 8 (Waseca), 12:30 to 4:40 pm at each location (on-site registration begins at 11:30 am);
January 9 (Rochester);
January 10 (Lamberton);
January 15 (Morris);
January 16 (Wilmar);
January 27 (Crookston).
Registration fee is $55 through January 4th, and $60 beginning January 5th or at the door. Online registration and session abstracts are available on our website. The program will feature research-based strategies to deal with today's changing pests, diseases, varieties, nutrient and environmental recommendations.
Land Stewardship Project Winter Workshops Exploring Soil Building on Rented Farmland: Intro to Land Management and Stewardship Communication
When: January 10 (Vinje Church, 1101 Willmar Ave. SW., Willmar);
January 16 (Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 W. Roselawn Ave., Roseville);
January 17 (Wedgewood Cove, 2200 W. 9th St., Albert Lea).
These workshops are for farmland owners, retired farm men and women, those inheriting a farmland investment and farmers who would like to invest in soil building on rented land. Participants are encouraged to bring their landowner/renter or to attend independently. All workshops are from 9 am to 3 pm. Suggested donation is $20, which includes a noon meal and toolkit. To reserve a spot and for more information, contact Robin Moore at 320-269-2105 or email@example.com. Online registration is also available here. See attached flyer for more information.
NDSU 2019 Soil Health Café Talks
When: Beginning January 8 and ending on February 7, all run from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.
Where: Locations vary.
No pre-registration required; events are free. Talks will focus on soil health, cover crops, grazing and soil fertility. See attached flyer for more information.
Soil Health Partnership Soil Health Summit
When: January 15-16.
Where: Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, 315 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, MO 63102
Open to the public for the first time in 2019, the Summit is THE place to learn the latest in data surrounding adaptive management practices, engage in deep-dive education, and for farmers to connect with others in vital peer-to-peer networking and learning. This event provides great value in bridging the conversation between diverse stakeholders who rally around improving soil health. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website. Cost depends on events and PFI membership.
Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference: Cultivating Connections
When: January 17-19.
Where: Iowa State Conference Center, Scheman Building, Ames, IA 50011
This year’s conference will focus on how to cultivate connections that nurture a purposeful path. Learn how to cultivate a healthy soil that will improve productivity and increase ecosystem services. Look to your past to make strides toward your vision for your farmland legacy. Hear how to engage with your community to spur rural economic development. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website. Cost is $100 for farmers and educators, and $250 for non-farmers.
University of Minnesota Winter Crops Day
When: January 18, 9 am to 4 pm.
Where: UM Southern Research and Outreach Center, Waseca and Heintz Center, Rochester (concurrent sessions)
One session will highlight all aspects of cover crop management including species selection, seeding/establishment date and methods, crop rotation, and soil health. The other will cover all aspects of potassium, nutrition in crops and soil test methods. Cost is $40, which will include morning refreshments, lunch and handout materials. For more information, visit the event website or see attached flyer.
Building Profits & Soil Health Workshop
When: January 22, 5:30 to 8:30 pm.
Where: First Congregational United Church of Christ, 221 7th Ave. W., Alexandria, MN
Joshua Dukart, a rancher, educator and conservationist who works with farmers and land managers to address on-farm financial decision-making in the context of soil health, will lead this Land Stewardship Project (LSP) workshop. Cost, including a light supper, is$10 for adults, $25 for a family. For more information and to reserve a spot, contact LSP’s Robin Moore at 320-269-2105 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2019 I-90 Soil Health Tour
When: January 22 (Rochester);
January 23 (Albert Lea);
January 24 (Fairmont);
January 25 (Heron Lake).
The tour features keynote speakers Dr. Jerry Hatfield, USDA-ARS, a leading expert on soil/plant interactions in a changing climate, and Dan Perkins, YouTube’s “Jasper County Cover Crop Guy.” See attached flyers for more information.
Soil and Soil Water Workshop
When: January 23, 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (registration begins at 7:15).
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, ND 58103
Main topics include transitional soils following conversation to no till; asymbiotic microbial N-fixation; nitrogen additives and amendments; nitrogen loss from corn, potato and spring wheat production systems; corn yield with tillage systems over the Midwest; and an integrated approach to site-specific nutrient application. For more information and to register, please visit the workshop website. Cost is $100 until January 11th ($120 thereafter). Online registration closes January 22nd.
Iowa State University 2019 Soil Health Conference
When: February 4-5.
Where: Scheman Building, Iowa State University, 1805 Center Dr., Ames, IA 50011
Speakers include farmers with rich experience implementing management practices and innovative approaches for building a resilient system, and scientists and agronomists of national renown in soil health. The agenda will include presentations and group discussions addressing the economics, systems approach, and real-life experience for improving soil health and management challenges. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website. Cost is $190 until January 11th ($225 thereafter) or $85 with valid student ID.
5th Annual Nitrogen Conference
When: February 5, 8:15 am to 3:40 pm.
Where: Verizon Wireless Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Mankato, MN
This conference will bring experts together to focus entirely on this valuable input. Current topics in crop production and environmental stewardship will be relevant and informative for today's agricultural producers and professionals and anyone else who appreciates high-quality research-based information. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website. Cost is $20.
Land Stewardship Project Winter Workshops Exploring Soil Building on Rented Farmland: Digging Deeper into Conservation
When: February 7 (Vinje Church, 1101 Willmar Ave. SW., Willmar);
February 13 (Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 W. Roselawn Ave., Roseville);
February 14 (Wedgewood Cove, 2200 W. 9th St., Albert Lea).
These workshops feature a morning session for women landowners only (lunch is included for morning and afternoon participants). All are welcome in the afternoon, which will feature panel discussions and a Q and A with legal, financial and agency experts, as well as farmers and landowners. All workshops are from 9 am (as noted above) to 3 pm. Suggested donation is $20, which includes a noon meal. To reserve a spot and for more information, contact Robin Moore at 320-269-2105 or email@example.com. Online registration is also available here. See attached flyer for more information.
11th Annual Nutrient Management Conference
When: February 19, 8:15 am to 3:40 pm.
Where: Best Western Kelly Inn, 100 4th Ave. S., St. Cloud, MN 56301
Sessions will cover challenges in phosphorus and sulfur management, nitrogen applications under irrigation, and effects of phosphorus availability due to residue management. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website. Cost is $20.
Midwest Cover Crops Council Conference
When: February 21.
Where: Northfield Inn, Suites & Conference Center, 3280 Northfield Drive, Springfield, IL 62702
Please visit the Annual Meeting and Conference website for more information.
Farming and Ranching for the Bottom Line
When: February 26-27.
Where: Bismarck State College, National Energy Center of Excellence, 1200 Schafer St, Bismarck, ND 58501
Featured topics include cover crops, weather crystal ball, grazing profitability, Area IV farm research and more. Keynote speakers include Temple Grandin, Mark Schatzker and Greg Judy. Please RVSP by February 19; call Cindy at 701-250-4518 ext. 3 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no cost to attend. See attached flyer for more information.
Sustainable Farming Association Midwest Soil Health Summit
When: March 12, 8 am to 3:30 pm.
Where: Alumni Hall, Gustavus Adolphus College, 800 West College Ave., Saint Peter, MN 56082
Speakers include Dr. David Montgomery (soil scientist, MacArthur fellow & author, NRCS State Conservationist Troy Daniels and Asst. State Soil Scientist Kristin Brennan, Univ. of Minnesota Extension Educator Jodi DeJong-Hughes), farmer & soil health expert Grant Breitkreutz and SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist Kent Solberg. For more information, and to register, please visit the conferencewebsite. Cost is $50 for SFA members and $75 for nonmembers. Scholarships are available for agriculture professionals; recipients will attend an additional introduction to soil health session on March 11th. Application materials can be found here.
Soil Health Articles/Books/Blogs:
Opinion: Soil carbon sequestration is an elusive climate mitigation tool (Link)
“As we outline below, cultural, economic, and physical barriers mean that soils face dim prospects as major carbon sinks. The problem begins with researcher’s sometimes poor understanding of their stakeholders and a lack of appreciation or acknowledgment about the complexity of policy implementation.” Policy, per se, is only one tool in the soil health toolbox.
Scientists call for eight steps to increase soil carbon for climate action and food security (Link)
“The amount of carbon in soil is over twice the amount of carbon found in trees and other biomass. But one-third of the world's soils are already degraded, limiting agricultural production and adding almost 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere….” Click here to read the Nature article to which this summary refers.
Pilot program aimed at encouraging farmers to alter growing styles (Link)
“The $25 million test project will measure how much additional carbon the agriculture sector can keep out of the atmosphere by leaving fields untilled or minimally tilled and covered with vegetation.” Yes, it does work in MN.
How cattle can help save the birds of the Great Plains (Link)
“Since 1970 Great Plains grassland songbirds have declined nearly 70 percent, a collapse rivaling that of insect and marine fish populations. Climate change, outdated grazing practices and urbanization are definite factors in the decline, but agriculture's intensification is the main culprit.” National Geographic! The visuals alone are worth a lingering look.
Deep Beneath Your Feet, They Live in the Octillions (Link)
“The real journey to the center of the Earth has begun, and scientists are discovering subsurface microbial beings that shake up what we think we know about life.” Soil health for solid rock, or what we thought was solid rock.
How to Cope with Largely Dysfunctional Market Signals for Soil Stewardship? (Link)
“As natural resources dwindle, the real productivity lies in how these resources re-generate. One is productive if there is more forest next year than today, if there are more fish and if the soil becomes more fertile by the years instead of being exhausted and eroded.” It's difficult to price something if you presume an unlimited potential supply.
A sold-out conference on soil health? Absolutely, say farmers (Link)
“The jam-packed sessions on soil health this week are evidence of a growing movement to change farming practices, said Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a University of Minnesota Extension educator who has been helping to organize conservation conferences for 14 years. This year, they had to turn away farmers and vendors.” Progress!
One way to reduce food waste: Use it to make soil healthier (Link)
“We initially thought any benefits from adding lactobionate would be short-lived because soil microbes might quickly break down and consume it. And indeed, microbial populations in the soil exploded after lactobionate additions. However, we found that improvements in soil water retention persisted.” Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Farmers know climate change is real — can they fight it? (Link)
“Craig Dunnum didn’t read the recently released National Climate Assessment (NCA), which predicts the nation’s farm commodity contribution to the economy — $136.7 billion in 2016, already low due to falling prices — will be increasingly vulnerable to droughts, floods, pests and disease. Instead, he lived it.” The burden of unrealized yield vs. the price tag of innovation. Which costs more?
Journey Into the World’s First Underwater Farm (Link)
“Five years ago, Sergio Gamberini, a professional scuba diver and amateur gardener from Liguria, a coastal region in north-west Italy, was hanging out with local farmers. ‘I started wondering if crops could grow in the ocean,’ he says.” I believe this is called “thinking outside of the bubble.”
Soil Health Videos/Webinars/Podcasts:
Regenerating the Diversity of Life in Soils- Hope for Farming and Climate (Link)
When: Available online.
“This webinar will explore how the evolution of diverse lifeforms has shaped this planet and how we can co-opt the biological communities in soil that evolved over the last 500 million years.” Feeling overwhelmed? An hour here will help.
Impacts and Opportunities of Climate Change on Northeast Crops and Livestock – Part 2: Climate change effects on livestock in the Northeast US and strategies for adaptation (Link)
When: Available online.
“The lead authors… highlight species or production systems that might be particularly vulnerable to changing conditions. They also include practical actions one can take to reduce the harmful aspects of some of these changes.” Part 2 of the November 27th webinar of the same title.
Merit or Myth: Unpacking the Benefits of Soil Health w/ Steve Reimer (Link)
When: Available online.
“We can't control the weather. Nobody knows this better than farmers. With that in mind, what types of systems put us in a position to navigate unpredictable weather conditions so that our operation can still be successful?” Three minutes of extreme conditions.
Merit or Myth: A Minute w/ Jeff Hemenway: Comparing Soil Profiles (Link)
When: Available online.
“’We got this Enet soil [from across the road for comparison] and look at the organic matter differences! I mean you don't have to be a soil scientist….’” Soil, meet Dirt. Dirt, Soil.
Tasting the World’s First Test-Tube Steak (Link)
When: Available online.
“Cultured meat, lab-grown meat, clean meat—whatever you want to call it—is identical to conventional meat at the cellular level, just grown in a lab.” The future selling point of a cow may be her role in a soil health management system. A test tube can’t mimic the action of hooves and teeth.
Recommended Standard Methods for Use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements (Link)
When: Available online.
“USDA NRCS and partner efforts to assess soil health problems and impacts of management nationally, as part of conservation planning and implementation, will be facilitated if soil health indicators are measured using a standard set of methods.” Presentation slides have been attached as a pdf file. Last month!
LIVING SOIL: A Documentary for All of Us (Link)
When: Available online.
On November 15, The Soil Health Institute released Living Soil. “Living Soil captures the background of the current soil health movement and its momentum, beginning with painful images of the Dust Bowl, and then transitions to personal experiences of innovative women and men who are managing their land to enhance soil health.” A cure for cabin fever, returning in case December was too busy.
Bismarck Soil Health Summit: Regenerating Soil with Diversity (Link)
When: Available online (Menoken Farm YouTube channel).
“We eliminated the use of synthetic fertilizers after 2007, and we haven’t used any fungicides or pesticides since before the turn of the century.” Staying a month longer to accommodate winter binge-watchers.
The January NRCS Soil Health Update from Elizabeth Creech will be forwarded when it arrives.
Hug your Soil. Then hug a bug.
And remember that "no problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit." (George H. W. Bush)
Ann Marie Journey
Soil Health Coordinator, ACES
375 Jackson Street, Suite 600
St. Paul, MN 55101
Office – (651) 602-7897
Our distribution list has undergone renovation. If, as a result, you are receiving multiple copies of this message, or wish to be removed from the list, please contact me at Ann.Journey@mn.usda.gov.