All About Soil Health

As stewards of the land, farmers are responsible for maintaining fertile land for future generations. A big part of this is preserving rich, healthy soil, which is important not only for a sustainable future but also for the crops these farmers grow. Soil health is a science and can be tricky to master, but there are plenty of resources available to farmers to help.

Not sure how the quality of soil impacts you? The Rodale Institute created a Soil Biology webinar to explain why healthy soil is important to individuals and the ecosystem as a whole. “The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” J.I. Rodale wrote in Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.” The webinar goes on to explain what elements should be abundant in soil and how to maintain those levels.

A crucial aspect to preserving healthy soil is testing. Cooperative Extension offers soil testing resources and guides to help with this process. Click here to find an Extension agent near you. Many Cooperative Extensions provide online educational resources. University of Maine Extension offers this publication with a step-by-step guide to soil testing. Cornell University Cooperative Extension has an entire webpage for soil health, including the “Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual,” a soil health management plan and informative videos dedicated to proper soil testing. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also offers a soil health webpage with various publications, updated news on soil health science and a list of websites that can provide further help.

While these organizations provide an overview of how to sustain soil health, there are many outlets that offer information on the nitty-gritty of related topics. The Rodale Institute compiled reports and publications related to soil health research discussing specific issues the organization is working on. Many of these can be viewed online here. Rodale also provides an informative, focused webinar, “Impacts of Plastic and Cover Crop Mulches on Weeds, Soil Quality, Yields and Season Length for Tomatoes.”

ATTRA also compiled a list of publications the organization created that discuss specific topics surrounding soil health, ranging from “A Brief Overview of Nutrient Cycling in Pastures” to “Rye as a Cover Crop” to “Alternative Soil Amendments.” ATTRA also offers two educational webinars discussing soil health: “Organic Research and Needs: Cover Crops, Crop Rotation and Soil Health” and “Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health.”

Crop Insurance Resource Roundup

Risk management is a crucial aspect of farming, particularly with the extreme weather conditions that are hitting the United States. A critical part of this is crop insurance. To get the basics, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency developed a webpage with answers to common questions surrounding crop insurance. Below are some tools available for free online that can help farmers navigate how to effectively implement crop insurance.

Crop Insurance for Individuals

FLAG created a PDF intended as a training guide for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives that provides an in depth look into crop insurance for individuals. This document is available to anyone for free online. It covers everything there is to know behind the roles and rules of insuring crops through Federal Crop Insurance or a private insurer. The document also delves into what is covered under crop insurance, what to look for in a contract and much more.

Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program

This program is available for producers that were hit by a natural disaster without crop insurance.

Utah State University Extension developed a presentation explaining everything there is to know about the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency also offers an informative disaster assistance fact sheet focusing on the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Organic Crop Insurance

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency produced a fact sheet explaining the Contract Price Addendum, which now allows organic producers to insure crops at a set price specified in a contract. The addendum is applicable to 62 types of crops.

Corn and Soybean Crop Insurance

Iowa State’s Extension program offers two helpful PDF’s available through the Decision Tools section of its website. These free downloadable PDFs offer valuable insight into choosing crop insurance plans for corn and soybeans; the first of which provides a tool to compare different strategies for insurance on corn and soybeans, while the second compares the risk behind GRIP and GRP crop insurance for these crops.

Cover Crops and Crop Insurance

The National Resources Conservation Service put the Cover Crop Termination Guidelines online in a downloadable PDF format.

For a more in depth look, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology created a webinar that explains “when and how to terminate cover crops and maintain eligibility for crop insurance coverage of subsequently planted cash crops.”

Other Helpful Tools

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension collected various crop insurance fact sheet publications covering the following topics: apples, peaches, corn, fresh market sweet corn, forage production, forage seeding, nursery and insurance coverage for organic crops.

Food and farm webinar roundup

What is a webinar, you ask? A webinar is essentially an online educational video that typically discusses a specific topic. Many organizations listed in our Farmer Research Network online search tool provide this type of resource to assist agricultural producers. While some of these webinars require advanced registration, other videos are archived for farmers and ranchers to watch anytime! From conservation tips and tools to learning to start a farm, there are plenty of agriculture webinars available to farmers. Here are some trusted websites with webinars that can help:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) 

ATTRA, a division of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, maintains an ongoing archive of its webinars focused on different areas of sustainable agriculture. Want to learn how to build a better relationship with your lamb processor? How about organic farm conservation? With 55 archived webinars and a growing library, this is the site to visit for all things sustainable.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Many branches of the USDA developed webinars to assist and educate producers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created a library of various videos related to conservation. These webinars span topics ranging from “Planning for Floodplain and Riparian Area Special Environmental Concerns” to “Conserving Pollinators While Addressing Other Resource Concerns.” Each webinar is hosted by a lineup of experts, many of which are USDA employees.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a series of webinars that air twice a month from January through June of 2014 focusing on farm to school programs. All of these videos are archived in an FNS library in addition to a host of other webinars from the past two years.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service created an ongoing series of fruit and vegetable webinars archived here.

The USDA’s Forest Service developed the “Invasive Plants—Issues, Challenges and Discoveries Webinar Series” intended for landowners, agriculture professionals and scientists. This seven-part series will run through May, 2014, and information on each can be found here.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

While NSAC doesn’t have a library of archived webinars, the organization hosts several training webinars throughout the year. These training sessions cover many different topics, like how to market your agricultural business through building connections with the media or this overview of cover crops based on updated USDA termination guidelines. To stay up-to-date on the latest NSAC webinar, check out its website or like the organization on Facebook.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The different SARE branches created varying series of webinars. North Central SARE offers webinars focusing on greenhouse energy, cover crops, building local sustainable foods and irrigation energy.  Southern SARE provides a webinar on “Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production.” Farmers and ranchers can also order archived webinar series from Northeast SARE focusing on marketing for profit or farmland transfer and access.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

WFAN has a library of webinars that focus on empowering female farmers. These webinars cover a diverse range of topics within this realm, but each is meant to give women the tools they need to succeed. That may be on a policy level, such as the “Policy—When The Personal Becomes Political” video, which engages women leaders to explain how individuals can further policy goals. There are also more abstract videos, like this webinar that discusses the power of blogging.

Farm Commons 

Farm Commons creates and archives webinars focused on dealing with legal issues that can impact farm operations. The organization supplements these videos with downloadable resources. These webinars cover topics relevant to beginning and advanced growers alike, with titles ranging from “ Starting a Farm” to “Community Supported Agriculture Legal Issues.”

Rodale Institute 

While the Rodale Institute hasn’t released any webinars yet, stay tuned! The organization is in the works of creating a schedule of webinar trainings. In the meantime, Rodale developed a page with helpful videos from its conferences and workshops.

 

 

Innovative Cover Crop Farm Tour in Ohio

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) presents a cover crop farm tour! Learn from one of Ohio’s foremost experts, David Brandt. He is a no-till farmer using cover crops extensively. David currently farms 1,250 acres of corn, soy, and wheat, and five acres of produce in Fairfield County, Ohio. He is funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to conduct research into nitrogen fixing cover crops, and also has a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) grant to study how cover crop species transport nutrients to the soil’s surface.

This Twilight tour will cover techniques for successful cover cropping on your farm. The tour is part of the 2013 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series from Ohio State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Team.

Details:

Tuesday, August 27th from 6 – 8 p.m. at Brandt’s Farm

6100 Basil-Western Rd.,

Carroll, OH 43112

(740) 756-4436, brandtsfarm@yahoo.com

Click here for more information.

Winter Webinar Series on Cover Crop Innovations

Penn State Extension is offering a “Cover Crop Innovations” webinar series, starting February 4th. Five webinars will cover topics such as using winter-killed cover crops to reduce tillage in organic vegetable production, interseeding cover crops in standing corn fields, cover crops for small dairy farms, managing insects following high-residue cover crops, and more.

Webinars are free and open to the public, and will take place on Mondays from 12-1pm EST in February and March. For more info and to register, visit here.