Local farmers deepen their understanding of soil health

Striving to improve stewardship of the land they farm was the goal of a field day hosted by members of Peninsula Pride Farms and Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network at Deer Run Dairy in Kewaunee on Aug. 9.

Retired director of USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment, Jerry Hatfield, spoke with nearly 30 attendees about increasing the functionality of soil health to support regenerative agricultural production. He noted that enhancing soil functionality requires increasing energy content, which is related to carbon capture and storage.

“It’s really about the transfer of energy from the environment to the soil,” Hatfield said.

Reduced tillage, continuous cover, increased crop diversity and livestock integration are all components of an energy-based system that can dramatically change the soil and agriculture production. Farmers can use these practices to benefit their soil, the environment, and their production efficiency and profitability.

LandCares Consultant Bill Powel-Smith shared a similar message with the group. He said farmers can increase soil health and build carbon without using chemical inputs by growing diverse crops. A dry year like this provides an example of how having a living root builds carbon, which helps hold moisture in the soil. The same living root feeds bacteria and other microorganisms that help mine nutrients in the soil, feeding the crop without adding other inputs.

NRSC representatives Dan Blair and Myles Elsen presented a rainfall simulator with soil samples from Deer Run Dairy. Elsen reminded farmers about the five key principles of soil health: a medium to grow crops, a water supply regulator, provides habitat for organisms, functions as a natural recycling system and is an engineering medium for buildings.

Blair displayed the effects a heavy rainfall can have on five different soil samples. He demonstrated where the water travels once it hits the samples. For example, a fence row sample with little to no disturbance has a higher retention of water than a conventional tilled sample that shows a lot of dirty water runoff, which is not able to hold the water.

Demonstration field days like this allow farmers to share their experience with others and continue to learn from industry experts how to preserve and protect their land.  If you would like to learn more about improving soil health or other conservation resources, check out the news page on our website and watch for future event announcements.

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