Abbey Wick / NDSU Extension Soil Health Specialist
To welcome 2020, here's a list of the top 20 North Dakota State University Extension soil health programs and research projects that will be continued or initiated this year. Keep your eye out for the important research we're doing and opportunities to get more information on the different projects through Extension events. • Café Talks: we'll have 22 Café Talks hosted by NDSU Extension agents and specialists from Langdon and Carrington Research Extension Centers and Main Campus starting on Jan. 14 and going through March 24 (schedule posted NDSU.edu/soilhealth).
There's a new approach to the Soil Health Café Talk program in 2020. Don't worry, it will be the same style of meeting to encourage idea sharing amongst farmers, consultants, Extension, researchers and industry, but it will now reach more locations across North Dakota with more events.
I recently joined up with an afternoon field tour — one that was coordinated by farmers and ranchers who are trying soil health practices and had some neighboring farmers who wanted to check out what they are doing. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, it was a last minute deal, but it ended up being an afternoon that will stick with me for a long time. Here's what happened:
In case you haven't heard, there's a new workshop focused on soil health coming to the region. The Dakota Innovation Research and Technology Workshop, or DIRT Workshop for short, will be Dec. 9-11 at the Delta by Marriott in Fargo, N.D. I want to explain a little history of the event before I go into the highlights.
After small grains, we typically try to get our cover crop mixes seeded by August 15. That date has blown by us and it is now mid-September with some wheat still being harvested.
I've had a lot of conversations in the past couple months with farmers interested in, just getting into soil health building practices or those who have been using them a long time where the phrase, "I didn't want to do XYZ, but I made the decision and moved on." This is often in the context of using a shallow tillage pass to get the crop in, not seeding cover crops because of a late season, baling straw because the residue spread wasn't what you wanted, changing rotation because time was short or any other number of things.
There's this idea floating around that cover crops will take up nitrogen this growing season and then release that nitrogen for next year's crop. Add on top of that, an ability to anticipate when that nitrogen will be released by selecting specific cover crops in a mix (this is the C:N ratio stuff you hear about). But, we have to ask, do we have data showing that for our region? And can we actually anticipate release based on C:N ratios in our region?
Building healthier soils is not just about a prescription, rather a pursuit. This is the motto of the new podcast, Soil Sense, released this week.
The first season of the Agweek Soil Health Minute, sponsored by the North Dakota Corn Council and North Dakota Soybean Council, aired on April 16, 2017. We are now in our third season of a partnership that has resulted in 25 television segments and 56 magazine column articles sharing how North Dakota State University research intertwines with on-farm application of practices.
Soil health is moving forward so quickly that much of the effectiveness of practices is based on observation. Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time observing to see how practices might or might not work. But, I also have the important job of understanding the science behind the observed practices so that statewide recommendations can be made. Over the next couple months, I'll take a look at observations and hopefully relate what we are observing with scientific results from North Dakota State University soil health research projects.