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Looking at soil health through the lens of profitability

Building soil health is a long-term investment

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Building soil health is a long-term investment

The third annual Soil Health U and Trade Show, hosted by High Plains Journal, will offer many opportunities for producers to dig in and learn about regenerative agriculture, the carbon cycle, cover crops and plant diversity. The two-day educational event is set for Jan. 22 and 23 at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center, Salina, Kansas.


Jessica Gnad, Soil Health U content consultant for HPJ, said profitability is key when making changes on an operation and that building soil health is a long-term investment. “How do we make changes through the lens of profitability? A lot of our speakers are going to be opening up the pocketbook and showing and sharing what profitability looks like for them.”

Soil organic matter is one topic that session presenters will focus on, she said. “As we start to increase soil organic matter, we’re able to cycle nutrients and cycle water better. And there will be a lot of folks that are able to draw profitability off of increasing soil organic matter.”


Journal photo by Kylene Scott.

A theme for speakers will be the importance of the carbon cycle, Gnad said. “We’re looking to cycle more carbon from the atmosphere and really put it back into agricultural soils.”

Past attendees of the event will be able to pick up right where they left off last year and continue their education. Soil health newcomers and first-time attendees will find beginner-level sessions, too. No matter what level of knowledge producers have about soil health techniques, they will find practical information at Soil Health U that they can quickly relate back to their own operations, Gnad explained. Producers will be given applicable instruction—not a prescription.

Keynote speakers for the event are Ray Archuleta, agro-ecologist and founding partner of Understanding Ag; Lance Gunderson, president of Regen Ag Lab; and Reginaldo “Regi” Haslett-Marroquin, president and CEO of Regenerative Agriculture Alliance. (For a closer look at the keynote speakers and the topics they’ll be covering, visit hpj.com/soilhealthu.)

Other session topics will include: making the transition to regenerative agriculture, how cover crops and livestock work together, forages, soil testing, revitalizing rural communities through regenerative agriculture, alternative markets, a systems approach to soil health and more.

Trade Show

Journal photo by Kylene Scott.

Expanded trade show

Gnad said there are barriers to adoption for producers who want to begin incorporating soil health practices on their own operations. The trade show enables them to see soil health–related implements and other tools in person, which complements the educational programming, she said. Dedicated trade show time is included on the schedule, which gives producers face-to-face time with vendors who can provide more information, give demonstrations and answer questions.

New additions to Soil Health U

The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas, will participate in the event for the first time in 2020. Brandon Schlautman will present a session about natural agro-ecosystems and growing perennial legumes. Some of the Land Institute’s pilot project growers will also be at Soil Health U to share their experiences implementing the program’s agronomic techniques.

Chickens are another new addition to the event this year. Gnad said that when looking at profitability on a farming operation, producers might want to stack their enterprises as a way to mitigate risk and spread out their risk across different revenue streams. Haslett-Marroquin will share his expertise in a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture prototype his organization developed.

Richard Haney, Texas A&M emeritus professor, who developed the Haney soil test, also joins Soil Health U in 2020. Haney and his wife, Liz, will help producers quantify their soil health and monitor whether they’re on the right path for changing their practices.

Because women are often the backbone of agricultural operations, Soil Health U will feature a new Women in Soil Health panel. Liz Haney, Soil Regen, will serve as moderator. Trisha Jackson, Hometree Gardens LLC; Linda Pechin-Long, Graze The Prairie; Ellen Mohler, Mulberry Lane Greenhouse, Kitchen and Farm Market; and Lucinda Stuenkel, Sunny Day Farms, will talk about their soil health journeys and experiences as leaders in regenerative agriculture. Gnad noted that all of the presenters are producers as well as teachers.

Producer panels


Journal photo by Kylene Scott.

An agronomy panel will feature producers who are at different experience levels in soil health and regenerative agriculture. Gunderson will moderate the panel, which includes Jake Bevan, Indigo Ag; Macauley Kincaid, Kincaid Farms; and Mitchell Hora, Continuum Ag.

An interactive question-and-answer platform will allow participants to submit questions they may have about soil health practices and what they learn in conference sessions, and others will be able to upvote the submissions.

Gnad will moderate the third producer panel, near the end of the second day, which will include a Q&A with Gail Fuller, Fuller Farms; Russell Hedrick, JRH Grain Farms LLC & Understanding Ag; Adam Chappell, Chappell Brothers Farm LLC; Brian Alexander, Alexander Ranch; and Tom Cannon, Goodson Ranch. The regenerative agriculture panelists will answer the questions with the most votes received from attendees during the conference.

Discussions with other producers

Gnad emphasized that sometimes the best learning at conferences like Soil Health U comes from conversations in the hallways with like-minded producers. “The biggest can’t-miss opportunity is the relationship building,” she said.

Demo 2

Journal photo by Kylene Scott.

Learning something new and being in a setting where producers can find something applicable for the next growing season also make Soil Health U a must-attend event.

The Talk & Tip Social at the end of the conference’s first day will offer attendees another opportunity to discuss what they’ve learned with others and build relationships.

“This is the beginning of everybody’s journey in soil health. At Soil Health U, we want it to be a platform for people to come in and learn—we’re not preaching this is the absolute way that you have to do this. What we’re trying to do is expand everybody’s ability to go back to their own operation and look at decisions through the lens of soil health,” Gnad said.

For more information about Soil Health U or to register, visit soilhealthu.net or call 620-227-7171.

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or srumbaugh@hpj.com.

Get the dirt on soil health

Jess Gnad.jpg

Jessica Gnad was inspired to learn more about how food gets to her table while in the local foods movement in the Pratt, Kansas, community. Her interest in healthy food and having access to local fresh fruits, vegetables and specialty crops led her to investigate the relationship soil health has to agriculture. She and her agronomist husband, Shannon, have incorporated soil health building techniques on their own farm.

Hear Jennifer M. Latzke and Kylene Scott’s HPJ Talk podcast interview with Gnad and learn more about what’s in store for Soil Health U and Trade Show participants.

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