Soil Health U, held Jan. 22 to 23 in Salina, Kansas, did not disappoint when it came to panels aimed at explaining techniques, personal experiences and advice pertaining to regenerative agriculture. The event, in its third year and sponsored by High Plains Journal, held three separate panels with panelists from all over the spectrum.
Lance Gunderson, president and co-owner of Regen Ag Lab, hosted a regenerative agriculture producer panel, which explained the Haney Test, a procedure to analyze overall soil health. The panelists, Mitchell Hora, Jake Bevan and Macauley Kincaid, described when and how they use the test on their operations.
Hora, a seventh-generation farmer from southeast Iowa, is the founder and CEO of Continuum Ag, a company that uses its software to import soil data and convert to universal formats. Hora, along with his father, apply regenerative agriculture on 800 acres of corn and soybeans. Hora says he conducts weekly testing with the Haney Test to better understand when nutrients come back in plant available forms.
“When we were doing traditional soil sampling in a grid system, is we were able to pull something from that, but the data wasn’t really making any sense,” Hora said. “The data was only looking at the chemical properties of the soil. It was ignoring that the soil is a biological system. Now using the Haney Test we’ve been able to really quantify that and factor in our management systems.”
Bevan is an agronomist and regenerative farmer and rancher from south central Kansas. He has been a crop consultant for the past seven years. Working with Indigo Ag, he serves farmers and ranchers in the High Plains.
Bevan has several acres of land around his house along with two cows, which he uses for regenerative agriculture experiments and tests, including the Haney Test. In his first test three years ago, Bevan applied just under 5 pounds of nitrogen on his soil then planted a rye cover crop and a diverse cover crop mixture that included sunn hemp, cowpeas, mung beans, sudan, guar and a couple different sorghum species. He was amazed at the test results and growth of the crop.
“By the end of the summer, I had probably six to seven tons worth of biomass out there and I applied zero fertility and I had every bit as much fertility at the end of the season as I started with,” Bevan said. “I feel as we continue to build out soil biology, this will continue to proliferate itself more and more.”
Kincaid owns Kincaid Farms, a 500-acre no-till row crop and pasture operation, in southwest Missouri. He says he is always looking to diversify his operation and one of his biggest cash flows consists of custom grazing cover crops.
“If you don’t have cattle, someone in your area does,” Kincaid explained. “It’s so simple to graze these animals in a holistic manner. All you need is fence and water.”
Kincaid utilizes the Haney Test, too, by testing his crops on 40-acre grids the day he plants his cover crop. He says it is a snapshot in time of what his biology is doing in that specific moment, which gives him a good baseline for where he needs to apply nitrogen.
Women take the stage
Later, Soil Health U held its first ever women in regenerative agriculture panel, hosted by Liz Haney, Ph.D. Members of the panel included: Trisha Jackson, Ph.D., Lucinda Stuenkel, Ellen Mohler and Linda Pechin-Long.
Jackson hails from central Kansas and teaches science at Pratt Community College and is a lead scientist at Hometree Gardens LLC. Jackson says she is passionate about soil health and teaching others how to nurture the land.
“I wanted to find a way to talk to farmers more and not just academics,” she said. “I had this pull to talk to people about what I was learning about the soil.”
Stuenkel, once a college professor, is the farm manager at Sunny Day Farms near Manhattan, Kansas. When her husband and brother-in-law were killed in an accident nine years ago, she had to find creative ways to keep the farm running with the help of regenerative agriculture.
“I went from being the bookkeeper, person who goes for parts and brings lunch to the field, to being the farm manager,” she said. “I used my animal gentling methods and what I knew of rotational grazing and cover crops and applied those techniques to the farm.”
Mohler is the owner and operator at MulberryLane Greenhouse, Kitchen and Farm Market in Sawyer, Kansas, and market manager for the Pratt farmers market. After using traditional tillage techniques to make their farm more profitable, Mohler and her husband started using no-till in 2009. By 2011, they were farming entirely no-till.
“Soil health is a journey, you start where you’re at,” she said. “If you plow, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to do it by anybody’s recipe.”
Pechin-Long, also from Kansas, is a Holistic Management International-certified practitioner. Although her husband has raised grass-fed beef for years, she had previously spent 28 years in the restaurant and hospitality business prior to going into agriculture full-time. Pechin-Long and her husband created Graze the Prairie, a direct marketing business for their grass-fed and certified animal welfare practices beef business in 2013. Through her holistic approach, Pechin-Long has learned how to utilize grazing planning, measuring forage and stock dogs to move her cattle.
Panelists discuss the future of soil health
The final panel featured Jessica Gnad, High Plains Journal soil health content consultant, as the host. The panelists included: Gail Fuller, Adam Chappell, Brian Alexander, Tom Cannon, Michael Thompson and Stuenkel.
Fuller of Fuller Farms in Severy, Kansas, has been experimenting with no-till in Kansas since the mid-1980s. He focuses on ecosystem restoration on his 162-acre farm.
“To me, every issue facing mankind today, can be solved by simply putting water in the soil,” he said. “We can stabilize the climate, solve human health issues and make farms, ranches, communities and cities more financially stable.”
Chappell of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, is a fourth-generation farmer at Chappell Brothers Farm LLC and the president of the Arkansas Soil Health Alliance. The operation has around 9,000 acres of cotton, corn and soybeans. His research in ecological principle led him to question conventional farming methods and look for ways to cut costs through cultural means.
“My biggest obstacle is getting smaller,” he said. “My papaw told me a long time ago it’s easy to get big, but it’s hard to get small, and, man, was he right.”
Alexander, of south central Kansas, is a grazing engineer, who operates the Alexander Ranch—a 7,000-acre cattle ranch—using a managed intensive grazing system. He uses livestock to solve land problems.
“I firmly believe if we fix our soil health, we can fix a lot of other problems that we have today in our society,” he said. “Being in this community for as long as I have, it’s heartwarming to see it grow.”
Thompson, of Thompson Farm & Ranch, farms in Furnas County, Nebraska, and Norton County, Kansas has integrated no-till, cover crops and grazing cattle on cropland. Thompson is also the president of the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association.
“We’ve lost our soil carbon and what we’re farming is closer to dirt than it is good soil,” Thompson said. “To get it back to what it used to be, we’re going to have to farm a little differently and not be afraid to try something new.”
Cannon, Blackwell, Oklahoma, is a fourth generation diversified farmer. He runs the Goodson Ranch, a 6,000-acre, 100% no-till operation focused on raising grass-fed beef.
He spoke of water management, understocking and overgrazing pastures and over applying chemical to crops. After Cannon was introduced, he took the opportunity to invite Lucinda Stuenkel, from the women’s panel, to speak on behalf of women in regenerative agriculture.
“This event has been a great reminder that this many people are interested in caring for the land,” Stuenkel said. “I’ve learned a lot of things this week that I can take home and try, but the biggest part of it is now we have a tribe of regenerative agriculture people.”
To learn more about Soil Health U, visit www.soilhealthu.net.
Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or email@example.com.