“A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.”
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Soil is the building block of agriculture, and so it only makes sense that those who make a living off of it would want to do their best to ensure that it was functioning at its best.
In an effort to help those who are striving to maintain optimal soil, an entity known as the Soil Health Academy was established.
The academy provides tools and practices for landowners and producers to utilize that can help regenerate what has become less-than-ideal soil structure through programs taught by soil science experts, as well as those who have taken those principles and applied them to their land.
A Soil Health Academy was held this summer in Redwood Falls.
Hosted by Stoney Creek Farm and its owners, Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, the academy was held at the American Legion hall as well as in the fields of Stoney Creek Farm.
Over three days, attendees learned about a variety of things they could implement in their own operations. The message from the presenters at the academy was all about what they called context – understanding what is in the soil, what should be in the soil and how one can work to diversify the structure of their soil.
When putting a plan together for one’s soil an important question to determine is whether or not the ecological environment is conducive to the practices being implemented. Not everything works in every area.
Of course there is also the profitability element. Using good practices can help to generate more revenue for an operation, although that requires patience as it does not happen overnight.
Profitability is not always linked to yield. Added revenue also can come in cost savings, as well as in having a diverse land make-up that not only includes land where crops are raised and livestock is grazed.
A good balance can also mean taking the most marginal land out of crop and livestock production and utilizing it for other options, such as establishing a setting for wildlife that can be used by hunters who come from other areas and bring their money with them.
Revenue generation is not only good for the individual landowner/producer but the entire community.
So does it really work?
Just ask Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, who not only hosted the event but also shared some of their experiences in putting the tools they have learned into practice.
According to Dawn, prior to implementing the principles and seeing the fruits of their efforts, the couple had to find other ways to add income, such as selling seed, doing custom work, selling other products and holding other jobs off of the farm.
Dawn said if only they would have known years ago what they know now. For those who were at the academy and are just starting down the road of soil regeneration, Dawn emphasized the importance of listening to what the experts were saying and then putting those ideas into practice.
“Do everything you can to make this work,” said Dawn.
Grant said when they started on the journey they are now on there were not opportunities like the Soil Health Academy, and so they spent countless hours, miles and money trying to find people who could teach them.
“We are here to give you hope,” said Grant.
Yes, Grant admitted, they have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but now they share their story with others to provide the wisdom they have gained. That way those starting out will not make those same mistakes.
While Grant and Dawn were not there to tell others how to farm and ranch, they did stress the importance of making this change, because the alternative is not acceptable. Going down the same path past generations have gone is only going to continue to compromise the soil.
Not only is it about creating healthy soil for today it is about making sure the next generation has the chance to get involved, too. Grant and Dawn have heard all of the excuses from their neighbors and others who are skeptical.
“This is not a fad,” Grant said.
Peer pressure is a real thing, said Grant, adding they have experienced that. There are times, he added, when you have to move on even if you are going alone. The benefits one will experience will be worth it.
Being able to prove that it works is fun, Grant added. Grant and Dawn also emphasized the importance of context, adding that what worked for them may not work all that well in other areas.
“You all have different contexts, so please keep that in mind,” he said.
Finding that context is where the soil health experts can help.
Among those who presented during the academy was Ray Archuleta, a certified professional soil scientist.
“Everything you think you know about soil changes when you add diversity,” Archuleta said. “Do not limit yourself when you are doing this.”
Yes, the presenters indicated, those who do things differently are labeled as “the weirdos,” but when things start coming together those who witness it will start asking questions about what is going on.
“As you are going down this path you need to look forward all of the time,” said Grant, adding one of the best rewards is seeing the impact on the environment as the wildlife returns and the water is so much cleaner.
To be successful in regenerating the soil one has to have a basic understanding of the soil itself, Archuleta explained.
That begins, he added, with the understanding that it is going to take a number of actions working in conjunction with each other to be successful in making an impact.
Do not get stuck doing just one thing or just using one model, said Archuleta, adding it is all about building the soil architecture through diversity.
Learn more about the Soil Health Academy and upcoming programs on its Web site at soilhealthacademy.org/.