Learning obviously isn’t relegated only to the classroom. This is one of the key reasons Merit or Myth was formed – to identify and spread truths that haven’t found their way into textbooks yet.
One year ago this month we shared our first true Facebook post with the world.
Outside of our appearances, however, a lot has changed in a year. We’ve visited with producers, researchers, and conservationists across South Dakota. We’ve spent time at farms that have widely different relationships with Mother Nature, some of them with fields of wet conditions, others of long-standing drought, some in frigid temperatures, others in the scalding heat. The data we’ve observed and the soils we’ve seen first-hand have shown that, regardless of conditions and location, healthy soils benefit everyone involved. What’s more, the fundamental practices that help create and sustain healthy soils seem to be consistent (1. Minimize disturbance, 2. Keep the soil covered, 3. Keep a live root in the soil as many days as possible, and 4. Feed the soil with diversity, diversity, diversity)!
The response we’ve garnered from farmers and ag acolytes in and around South Dakota has been a large reason we’ve been able to do what we do. We’d like to thank everyone who has played any part in helping us create our content! We’d also like to thank the individuals who have followed us along the way! Of course, while our success has been encouraging, it does not mean we haven’t had our detractors.
One quick scroll through our content and anyone can see that the soil health practices that we’ve been putting to the test often don’t fit with the conventional narrative that has been provided to the farmer and even the home-owner (Just look for example at TV commercials promising instant results in the garden if you use product X). The conventional narrative, deeply ingrained in many universities and classrooms across the nation (and the world) is typically predicated on practices such as conventional till, allowing fields to lay fallow, and inputs – fuel, fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide usage. To be sure, many of these techniques may provide short-term results, but often at the expense of the resource (and not always with an economical benefit to the farmer/homeowner).
Often the assumption is that tomorrow’s technology will fix today’s problems, right? It hasn’t always played out that way. Bottom line – will our grandchildren want to send us the bill for degrading the resource even further?
Today, we’re happy to notice that things are changing, even if those changes have small beginnings.
SOIL HEALTH IN THE CLASSROOM
The effort to get soil health principles into the classroom is beginning to bear fruit. Sources say that Western Illinois University (WIU) is currently developing what they’ve termed a “soil health education in-service” program for their professors. There also appears to be a heavy push for developing courses centered specifically around low-disturbance, no-till agriculture at the university.
A large reason for this has been the message of NRCS educators such as Barry Fisher and Candy Thomas. Both of these educators have given notable presentations within the Illinois ag community. Seeing that Merit or Myth is an NRCS initiative, this furthers our belief that we can have an impact on farmers, communities, and our nation!
As far as the upcoming course at WIU, NRCS agronomist Mike Kucera and his team are already several years into formulating the curriculum in large part to a $200,000 grant. What’s more, they’re not stopping at the WIU campus, they’re also actively pushing their upcoming curriculum into schools in nearby states.
Midwest Grass & Forage manager Scott Jones, who has seen the presentation of several NRCS educators first-hand, knows the benefits of such a curriculum.
“Through these presentations it’s become evident to me if we’re going to take soil health improvement to the next level, along with no-till agriculture, we have to educate kids in high school and colleges,” Scott says. “The 800-pound gorilla in the room is tillage, and until we address that issue and make soil health job No. 1 for worldwide ag, we will continue down the slippery slope of depleting soils and losing ag productivity.”
While this hasn’t happened within the great State of South Dakota, it appears to be only a matter of time before soil health enters the classroom all across the Midwest and into the Great Plains. If you’re reading this today as a regenerative farmer or even as one who employs conventional farming techniques, there is great reason for optimism. With more education comes a wider knowledge base and with that knowledge comes a deeper understanding for all. In this case, as soil health principles get more attention, more research, and more data will start coming in about what regenerative farming looks like. What an exciting time to be in agriculture (Just go back to our first video where we spoke to Dr. Ray Weil)!
A lot has changed in a year. This latest news surely means that there’s even more change to come for the next 365 days… and what appears to be a change for the better. If that isn’t refreshing in this day and age, we don’t know what is!
Don’t be the last to join the revolution,