April 1, 2020

Soil health: Learning from experience – West Central Tribune

Submitted photo
Carmen Fernholz, of Madison, is one of nine southwest Minnesota farmers profiled in a new set of soil health case studies. Fernholz uses cover crops to reduce soil compaction, fix nitrogen and enhance soil microbes.

WILLMAR — The experiences of nine farmers in southwest Minnesota who have spent years incorporating soil health principles into their production practices have been documented into case studies that are now available to other farmers to use.

“These case studies should be a real help to farmers who are new to soil health practices, cover crops and livestock,” said Theresa Keaveny, executive director of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.

“These farmers’ willingness to share their knowledge provides excellent networking opportunities,” she said in a news release.

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University of Minnesota research assistant Kathy Dooley visited farms and interviewed farmers in late 2018 to develop case study profiles of the nine farms.

Farmers were selected to participate in the project based on having at least five years of experience incorporating soil health into their production. The production practices described in the case studies include keeping living roots in the soil, keeping the soil covered, using diverse crop rotations and reducing soil disturbance.

In addition, many of the participating farms integrate livestock into their systems.

Farmers interested in adopting new practices to increase soil health and long-term sustainability can use these case studies to learn from others and connect with experienced producer, said Keaveny.

The soil health case studies report is available online at z.umn.edu/SoilHealthCaseStudies.

In the future, the farm profiles will also be listed in an online database with more detailed information, such as soil test results.

Dean Current, program director for the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management, said in the release that there are plans to expand the case studies in the future with additional data and that could include new farming options such as agroforestry.

The case studies were developed through a partnership between the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Extension’s Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management.

The research project was completed by Kathy Dooley, research assistant, through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Rural Affairs.

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