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.”

Web-Based Farmer Assistance Tools

In the age of all things digital, comes a new set of web-based tools to help farmers. From nitrogen meters to farm management and organizational tools, these online resources can put a lot of information into a farmer’s hand, while simplifying complex tasks.

Below are a few tools that stood out, but there are many more that didn’t make this list. Please tell us about tools that we may have missed or that you currently use in the comments below.

 

Adapt-N

Nitrogen fertilizer is an expensive business, with nearly $5 billion spent on corn crops alone. But much of this nitrogen goes unused—it’s either lost to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide or leached through the soil. So a new tool called Adapt-N has been created to help farmers predict their corn nitrogen needs more accurately. This is a free web-based tool that sends farmers alerts via text or email. The tool triangulates data on the local soil, crop and weather to provide farmers with estimates that can help them save money and protect the environment by not applying too much nitrogen fertilizer. The data are updated in real time throughout the growing season. Cornell University researchers who created the tool estimate that it helped farmers save nearly $200,000 last year and reduced fertilizer on about 7,500 acres of land. The tool currently has 600 users and was chosen as AgProfessional’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Top Product of the Year. Read more about Adapt-N and try out the tool.

 

CropMobster™

The web-based CropMobster is all about creating community. By building a local network of farms, and families in need, it creates affordable access to fresh food. This food is surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste. The CropMobster tool works through a set of alerts that go out via text, email, Facebook, Twitter, or telephone and get the word out immediately as to when and where there will be a gleaning event, crop mob or discount produce sale at a farm. This allows farmers to find a home for their leftover fruits and vegetables and families to find the produce they need.

 

Growers Edge

Growers Edge has been called the Google for farmers, as it pulls and organizes vital decision-making data that a farmer or rancher needs and stores it in one place. This completely free service offers a few difference options for viewing information, from the CashMax application, which allows farmers to track cash bids from more than 4,500 nationwide locations, as well as search for the best prices for different contract markets in their location, to the Profit Manager feature that allows farmers to set profit goals, record transactions and track profitability for each crop. Growers Edge also provides farmers the opportunity to trade in the futures and options markets for a $7 per trade commission versus the standard rates of $30-$70. This web-based tool provides farmers with an easy way to track and manage their business.

 

Seed to Harvest

Seed to Harvest is a crop record, smart phone application. This app was built with the organic farmer in mind and provides detailed planting information like transplanting records. A farmer can use this app to track their inputs and harvest records. Records are organized by field and section, and are stored on the smart phone, with the option of emailing, or downloading the information.


Save Our Citrus

The Save Our Citrus app was created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop the spread of citrus diseases. This free iPhone app allows growers to report and identify the four leading citrus diseases: citrus greening, citrus canker, citrus black spot and sweet orange scab. Farmers report symptoms by uploading photos and then receive a response from a USDA citrus expert.

 

Get Growing…Spring Workshops Around the Country

Spring has sprung! Are you ready for the upcoming growing season? Check out these workshops and classes to launch your farm into the growing season:

 

Cover Crop Workshop

April 5, 2013

North Iowa Events Center, 3700 4th St, SW

Mason City, Iowa

Join Iowa State University, the USDA-National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment and The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, to learn about the use of cover crops in sustainable fruit and vegetable production systems. This workshop is geared toward commercial horticulture extension specialists, county horticulturists, local food organizations, IFVGA and PFI board members, and IDALS and NRCS personnel. Fruit and vegetable growers are also welcome!

Registration is free, but required as space is limited! Click here to register.

For more information contact Dr. Ajay Nair: nairajay@iastate.edu or 515-294-7080

 

Introduction to Vegetable Production Workshop Series

April 6, 2013

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Join Penn State Extension to learn about production skills, strategies, and resources for vegetable production. The workshop series is geared toward beginning farmers and will help to refine techniques and optimize production and profit. The workshop will include demonstrations on both organic and conventional vegetable production, as well as hands-on experience in the latest techniques and tools for small and large farms.

Workshops start on April 6th and go through June. The series costs $300 and includes handouts and other materials.

Click here to learn more and sign up.

Questions? Contact Lee Stivers ljs32@psu.edu / 724-228-6881 or Heather Mikulas hem12@psu.edu / 412-473-2540

 

Managing a Greenhouse from Seed to Field

April 20, 2013

Rancho Cordova, California

Soil Born Farms has ongoing classes as part of their Urban Farmer Series. On April 20th learn how to start your crops from seed. Learn how seeds germinate, and make sure that your seedlings succeed!

The course is $40 and runs from 3:00-6:00pm. Click here to register and for more information.

 

Beekeeping 101

April 20, 2013

Rancho Cordova, California

Learn beekeeping in the classroom and in the field! Brian Fishback, an experienced beekeeper from BD Ranch and Apiary, will demonstrate best practices for keeping bees and producing honey.

The cost of the workshop is $49, $40 Co-op owners, register here through the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Click here for more information.

 

Spring Grazing Workshop

April 23, 2013
Boswell, Oklahoma

Learn how to manage a low-input, bermudagrass/ryegrass grazing system while also achieving land stewardship and financial goals. Producer Jan Lee demonstrates forage production management and stocking rates for optimization and efficiency. The workshop runs from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm and includes lunch.

Registration is $20.  Click here to register and for more information.

 

Cover Crop Mixes

April 24, 2013
Online

Learn about different sustainable options for cover crop mixes online. This webinar is being sponsored by NRCS East National Technology Support Center, as part of their Understanding Organic and Sustainable Agriculture series. The webinar will be held from 2:00 – 3:00 pm EST.

Click here for more information.

 

Farming Transplants: The Basics of Greenhouse Production for Sales and Farm Use

April 25, 2013

Blue Heron Farm 1641 Shaw Rd.

Lodi, New York 

Become confident in your transplanting abilities! This workshop will teach you how to estimate your market and then plant accordingly. Learn how to time plantings, market transplants and learn about different plant varieties. Greenhouse plant care may also be covered. The workshop will run from 4:30 pm – 7:00 pm.

Fee: $5/person; $10/two or more people

Register here by 12:00pm on April 22nd.  Space is limited to 30 people.

Call Stephanie with questions at 585-271-1979 ext. 509.–

 

Composting, Vermiculture & Compost Tea Workshop

April 27, 2013

Warwick, Rhode Island

Join NOFA Rhode Island for a hands-on demonstration of hot composting, worm composting and compost tea. Reinhard Sidor will lead the class, teaching you how to make compost from yard and kitchen waste and then how to use your compost—from container gardening, to use as mulch and fertilizer, to improving soil quality. The workshop runs from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Workshop fee is $40. Register via email.

For questions, call Sanne Kure-Jensen at (401) 369-3303.

Click here to learn more.

 

Basic AG Raise and Wean Healthy Calves

May 30, 2013

Ardmore, Oklahoma

Learn best management practices to ensure the health and productivity of your calves from birth through weaning. This FREE workshop is designed for beginning cow-calf producers. The workshop runs from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

Click here for more information.

 

New Guides for Organic Operations

To describe the relevant organic requirements, provide best practices, and further explain the certification process for certified organic farmers, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has partnered with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to provide the following detailed guides:

These guides provide helpful information for both beginning farmers and current organic operations looking to adopt new management approaches. Digital downloads of all guides are free, and print versions are $3.00.

New Organic Certification Guides from ATTRA

Earlier this year, USDA launched its new Organic Literacy Initiative, an effort to help connect current and prospective organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them.

As part of this initiative, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has partnered with the National Organic Program (NOP) on four new guides with detailed information about organic certification.  They include information about organic requirements and best practices, and also further explain the certification process:

The guides can be downloaded for free or ordered as a paper publication for a small handling fee either at the links above or on the ATTRA website.