Many farmers and landowners seek to preserve and improve soil health. A 2022 survey by the Soil Health Institute and Farm Journal’s Trust in Food showed that 66% of farmers were interested in the impact that their farm management practices had on soil health, and 62% were specifically interested in the effects of fertilizers, manures, pesticides and biological amendments.
Yet, farmers and agricultural support staff still have many questions about how to understand these effects and how to implement practices that positively impact soil health. Research from the North Central Region Soil Health Nexus conducted in 2018 shows that the largest barriers are economic hurdles, farm and soil management considerations and lack of knowledge. A Qualtrics needs assessment of Iowa stakeholders received 35 responses, with 97% indicating that there was a need for a soil health training event in Iowa.
With this in mind, ANR specialists Brian Dougherty, Angie Rieck-Hinz, Josh Michel and Catherine DeLong developed the Iowa Soil Health Workshop in partnership with the Soil Health Nexus.
The one-day workshop was attended by 48 people from 21 counties, representing state agencies, commodity organizations, soil and water conservation districts and farm management companies along with agronomists and farmers. Workshop sessions were led by staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service. A mix of both presentations and outdoor hands-on activities were used to deliver the information.
A Qualtrics survey of participants after the workshop had a 41% response rate with 20 responses. Of those, 40% were farmers. Averaged across all topics, 94% reported a knowledge increase. Participants also reported that they either directly or indirectly train or advise over 1800 farmers each year. When asked to what extent their participation in the workshop would lead to clients increasing their rates of adoption of soil health practices, 37% reported a little, 47% a moderate amount, and 10% thought client adoption would increase by a lot.
“It is critical that we maintain and improve our soils to ensure sustainable food production for future generations,” said Dougherty. “This is an urgent need not only in Iowa but nationally and globally. Many of the soil health principles and practices discussed at the workshop can help to reduce impacts on the environment and improve water quality. Placing relevant and timely information and tools into the hands of educators, farmers and agribusiness professionals will help increase the adoption rate of soil health practices and provide a solid foundation for future crop productivity and protection of air, water and soil natural resources.”