For five years, ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture’s Voices from the Field podcast has connected experts from around the world with the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s own specialists for cutting-edge conversations about sustainable agriculture, community resilience, and local food systems. Today, the series marks a milestone, posting its 250th podcast episode: Practical Steps for Reducing Synthetic Fertilizer Use.

“ATTRA has been a leader in the sustainable-agriculture community for decades because it has been a trusted source of information from the get-go,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. Voices from the Field continues that tradition as it reaches thousands of listeners each week.”

Voices from Field is produced by NCAT as part of ATTRA, its premier sustainable agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development.

NCAT is a trusted, practical connector for individuals and businesses who are working to leave our world better than we found it. We do this work through a trusted knowledge base, by providing individualized technical assistance, facilitating practical solutions, and connecting people with each other to support sustainable agriculture and clean energy systems. Voices from the Field has featured such well-known experts as Fred Provenza, who reflected on the link between human health and animal health. Nicole Masters gave us the skinny on the soil microbiome. Allen Williams had a lot to say about grazing management.

Equally compelling have been the stories that farmers and ranchers from around the nation have shared with listeners about their own trials and successes – and the practical advice they have to offer as the result of that hard-earned experience. From episodes on cover crops and soil health to agrivoltaics and integrating livestock, Voices from the Field continues to spark curiosity and deliver practical information.

Whether you’re already a fan of Voices from the Field or new to the podcast, visit the ATTRA website at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG or go to your favorite podcast platform to download these conversations and subscribe to future episodes that are released each Wednesday.

For more than 35 years, the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program has been helping farmers and ranchers grow nutritious food and operate successful businesses without synthetic fertilizer. Now, NCAT has released a new toolkit with trusted and practical resources for farmers who want to transition away from the use of synthetic fertilizers.

“As the cost of synthetic fertilizers and global food prices continue to climb, NCAT is releasing a roadmap for farmers who are looking for a more self-reliant and resilient method of farming,” said NCAT Southeast Regional Director and Arkansas farmer Margo Hale. “A growing number of farmers are opting out of the high-input model of conventional agriculture, which we see now is so vulnerable to global events like war and supply chain disruption.”

As the world’s farmers watch the cost of synthetic fertilizer continue to increase, and global food prices shatter records kept by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the global food system is being stressed like never before. There is a more stable, resilient model being used in every corner of the United States. These farmers rely on biological sources of nitrogen, breaking free of an often-volatile global marketplace.

Farming without synthetic fertilizers is within reach for large-scale food producers, and it’s a requirement for certified organic farmers. Montana grain-grower Bob Quinn transitioned his family’s conventional farm to an organic one back in 1989. Quinn brought Khorasan wheat to the mainstream marketplace with his brand KAMUT. In Maryland, Ron Holter manages his 150-cow seasonal dairy on grass alone, with no supplementary grain. Holter’s dairy has been free of synthetic fertilizer since 1995. Dave Brandt began cover cropping his Ohio corn and soybeans in 1978. Cover crops have maintained his cash-crop yields while reducing nitrogen fertilizer use by nearly 90 percent. Brandt credits cover crops with increasing soil microbial activity naturally, which provides nutrients to the food he grows and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Data show consumer demand for certified organic and other regeneratively produced foods continues to increase. The sale of organic products in the U.S. has grown more than 30 percent since 2016, and the number of organic producers is up almost 40 percent. Farmers who use regenerative methods, but might not be certified organic, are no doubt on the rise, too.

Shifting to a production method that is not reliant on synthetic fertilizers can be accomplished strategically over a three- to five-year transitional period. NCAT’s new toolkit guides farmers as they learn to use cover crops, managed grazing, and alternative soil amendments to naturally boost renewable nitrogen levels needed to maintain long-term productivity. These are accessible tools that can result in reduced input costs, increased self-reliance, and more nutritious food grown at small and large scales.

Access the free toolkit and decades of trusted, practical resources here: https://attra.ncat.org/how-to-reduce-synthetic-fertilizer-use/ .

EXPERT VOICES

NINA PRATER
Expertise Areas: Livestock, Soil Health, Organic Crops

Nina Prater has been with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) since 2016 as a Soil Specialist and Outreach Coordinator in the Southeast Regional Office. She strives to help farmers understand soils as a living entity so that they are able to farm profitably and build healthy soils for long-term success. Nina also works closely with the Gulf States Regional Office staff to coordinate outreach efforts in that region. Nina served as an Energy Corps member in 2013 and worked for her local conservation district for 2.5 years before joining NCAT. Nina and her husband Jeremy own and operate a small sustainable livestock operation in the Ozarks hills of Arkansas, where they raise meat goats, cattle, hogs, and poultry. They utilize adaptive grazing methods to build soil health in their pastures.

LEE RINEHART
Expertise Areas: Livestock, Organic Livestock, Soil Health, Grazing, Pasture Ecology

Lee Rinehart is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he studied animal science and agricultural education. He currently works as an agriculture specialist in the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Northeast Regional Office, where he focuses on pasture and rangeland ecology and grazing systems. He has served as county Extension agent in Texas and Montana, organic farm educator in Pennsylvania, and cattle ranch manager in central Texas. His specialty is developing grazing plans and assisting producers in using animals to renovate pastureland. Lee is a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve and spends his free time biking, sailing, and renovating his 1925 Cape Cod house in Northeast Pennsylvania.

 

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is bringing its free Armed to Farm training back to the Hill Country, after hosting a 2015 training in Castroville, Texas. Armed to Farm will take place May 16-20, 2022, in Fredericksburg. Farmer-veterans will attend classroom sessions and travel to local farms for hands-on learning experiences. The deadline to apply is Friday, April 8.

Armed to Farm trainings include an engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on activities, and interactive classroom instruction. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture specialists will teach the sessions. Staff from USDA agencies and experienced crop and livestock producers will provide additional instruction.

“We’re eager to bring Armed to Farm back to the Lone Star State,” said Armed to Farm Program Director Margo Hale. “Armed to Farm has served more than 800 veterans in all corners of the country as they start or grow their own sustainable farm business.”  

Armed to Farm is a sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans. NCAT, a national nonprofit organization based in Butte, Montana, developed Armed to Farm in 2013 through a cooperative agreement with USDA-Rural Development. Farmer veterans learn how to make a business plan and market their products, how to access USDA programs, set business goals, and develop mentorships with seasoned farmers.

“The education that I received has been invaluable for the launching and development of our family farm, Mind Your Garden Urban Farm,” said Armed to Farm alumnus Steven Nuñez, who farms with his family in Fort Worth. “The NCAT staff were truly knowledgeable and always willing to help and answer questions. The three most helpful takeaways for me were learning of the many resources available for veterans interested in a career in agriculture, the importance of diversifying income streams for the farm operation, and most importantly, understanding how crucial it is to cultivate a new generation of farmers to carry on the service to our country that our aging farmers have provided for decades.”

This training is for military veterans in Southwest. The number of participants will be limited. Spouses or farm partners are welcome to attend with a veteran but must submit a separate application.

Click HERE to apply by April 8. NCAT will notify selected participants by April 15.

Armed to Farm Texas is supported by funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. Successful applicants may also receive a travel stipend thanks to our partnership with California-based Ranchin’ Vets.

Learn more about NCAT’s Armed to Farm and additional training series at ARMEDTOFARM.ORG.

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse, developed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is launching a series of hands-on field trips to see firsthand the benefits of co-locating sustainable agriculture and solar energy. The Follow the Sun Tour’s first stop is April 5 at Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona.

“AgriSolar allows us to harvest the sun twice. As America’s appetite for sustainably grown products and renewable energy continues to increase, agrisolar has the potential to provide both resources,” says NCAT Energy Program Director Dr. Stacie Peterson. “The Follow the Sun Tour will visit agrivoltaic sites around the country that are seeing success with things like co-located grazing, habitat rehabilitation, crop production, and cutting-edge research. Our national network of partners includes the world’s leading agrivoltaic experts and we are excited to connect the public with partners like Dr. Greg Barron-Gafford and provide the opportunity to tour his research sites.”

Join Peterson and leading agrivoltaic researcher Dr. Barron-Gafford on a tour of the agrisolar research underway at Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 is the world’s largest controlled environment dedicated to understanding the impacts of climate change. Operated by the University of Arizona, the facility includes 3.14 acres, with 7.2 million cubic feet sealed underneath glass domes. Barron-Gafford and his team are investigating the potential for reintroducing vegetation into the typical PV power plant installation in drylands. His research shows that this approach may lead to increased renewable energy production, increased food production, and reduced water use. For interested participants, the tour will continue to the Manzo Elementary School Agrivoltaic site in Tucson.

Space is limited. RSVP is required.

NCAT created the nation’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse to connect farmers, ranchers, land managers, solar developers, and researchers with trusted, practical information to increase the appropriate co-location of solar and agriculture. It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The AgriSolar Clearinghouse features a library of more than 400 peer-reviewed articles, a media hub featuring videos, podcasts, and relevant news, and a user forum to directly connect people interested in agrivoltaic development in real-time. Partner organizations include leading universities, the Smithsonian, sustainable agriculture and energy advocates, the Center for Rural Affairs, and the national energy laboratories.

The benefits of co-locating solar with appropriate agricultural land include producing food, conserving ecosystems, creating renewable energy, increasing pollinator habitat, and maximizing farm revenue.

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s free Follow the Sun Tour will stop at about a dozen agrivoltaic sites over the next two years. Future field trips will include visits to sites in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, New York and more. Sign up for the AgriSolar Extra to be sure you know about upcoming Follow the Sun Tour stops.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is bringing its free Armed to Farm training to southern California for the first time, after hosting a 2018 training in Davis, Calif. Armed to Farm will take place April 18-22, 2022, in San Diego. West Coast farmer-veterans will attend classroom sessions and travel to local farms for hands-on learning experiences.

Armed to Farm trainings include an engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on activities, and interactive classroom instruction. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture specialists will teach the sessions. Staff from USDA agencies and experienced crop and livestock producers will provide additional instruction.

“We’re eager to bring Armed to Farm back to the Golden State,” said NCAT Southeast Regional and Armed to Farm Program Director Margo Hale. “Armed to Farm has served more than 800 veterans in all corners of the country as they start or grow their own sustainable farm business.”  

Armed to Farm is a sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans. NCAT, a national nonprofit organization based in Butte, Montana, developed Armed to Farm in 2013 through a cooperative agreement with USDA-Rural Development. Farmer veterans learn how to make a business plan and market their products, how to access USDA programs, set business goals, and develop mentorships with seasoned farmers.

This training is for military veterans in the West. The number of participants will be limited. Spouses or farm partners are welcome as well but must submit a separate application.

Click HERE to apply by March 4. NCAT will notify selected participants by March 11.

Armed to Farm California is supported by funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture AgVets program. Successful applications may also receive a travel stipend thanks to our partnership with California-based Ranchin’ Vets.

Learn more about NCAT’s Armed to Farm and additional training series at ARMEDTOFARM.ORG.

As a camera soars over an impressive piece of Rocky Mountain ranch land, the narrator says, “The soil that covers U.S. farm and ranch land holds a remarkable story. It’s a tale of success and setbacks. At its best, the soil beneath our feet is the source of life, food, and economic security.”

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has released its short film, Soil for Water, to highlight a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“Your soil health is going to keep you in business,” Texas rancher Tina Weldon says in the film. “If you take care of your soil, the land will give back to you in terms of your productivity.”

More than 120 farms and ranches in 20 states have already joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network. The project aims to include farmers and ranchers who discover and share land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants, all while improving the profitability of their businesses.

“If we’re going to be successful ranching in the long-term, we need to do a better job working together with other ranchers and learn how to do things regeneratively and profitably,” Montana rancher Dusty Emond explains in the short film.

The Soil for Water project is about implementing practical, cost-effective, and lasting ways to regenerate our soil — making farms, ranches, and communities more resilient in the face of climate disruption.

Unhealthy soil doesn’t absorb much water. Healthy soil acts like a sponge, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in an acre. Climate trends across much of the U.S. indicate longer, hotter drought periods punctuated by storms that often are more severe, according to a 2021 USDA report. Regenerative farming practices enable the soil to capture rainfall that otherwise might disappear as runoff. Economically, these practices can increase crop and forage production, drought resilience, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, they can improve soil health and biodiversity.

The expanded Soil for Water project encourages the adoption of regenerative land management practices through an interactive website, peer-to-peer forum, in-person and online networking opportunities, and the ability to connect with experts and land managers who are finding success with varied practices.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has opened registration for its Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, March 15 and 16.

The two-day conference will convene online, and the highly interactive format will connect agricultural producers and educators in a critical conversation about soil health. As was the first conference, it will be an in-depth exploration of agriculture’s sustainable future: on-farm practices, soil biology, carbon markets, and public policy. This year’s conference will focus on farm and ranch strategies to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“The inaugural Soil Health Innovations Conference last spring really exceeded our expectations,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “We were especially struck by the engagement of the participants, both during the conference and afterward through NCAT’s ATTRA sustainable agriculture program. It goes to show that we live in a time when producers and food companies, as well as policy makers, realize how important healthy soils are as we design practical approaches for supporting resilient regenerative agriculture.”

The conference will bring together leading experts and innovative farmers from around the U.S. to share the latest in soil science, best practices in soil management, opportunities for policy change, and the emerging technologies that will drive the future of sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Two sessions will focus on the potential to reduce downstream flooding through watershed-scale soil health practices. Keynote speakers will include University of Washington and Dig2Grow’s David Montgomery and regenerative rancher Alejandro Carrillo.

This year’s theme, Soil for Water, expands on NCAT’s nationwide effort of the same name to connect a growing network of regenerative farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

In addition, since one of the best parts of any conference is the chance to greet old friends and make new acquaintances, the conference will have virtual networking tables that allow participants to get together with each other, speakers, and NCAT staff.

There also will be virtual halls where participants can connect with exhibitors and conference sponsors.

Don’t miss this chance to examine current practices as well as the concepts, techniques, and practical applications that may be available in the future. Register to attend the conference, exhibit or sponsor the event at SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG.

Keynote Speaker: March 15

David R. Montgomery, University of Washington and Dig2Grow.com
Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

“Soil may be the least sexy resource upon which civilization depends, yet soil erosion and degradation have plagued societies in the past and pose challenges for feeding the future. Growing a Revolution relates visits to farmers around the world at the heart of a brewing soil health revolution that cuts through standard debates about conventional and organic farming.”

See David Montgomery’s biography.

 

Keynote Speaker: March 16

Alejandro Raul CarrilloAlejandro Raul Carrillo, Las Damas Cattle Ranch
Regenerative Grazing to Reverse Desertification

Using regenerative grazing techniques over the past several years, Alejandro dramatically increased the water filtration of his ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert 250 miles south of El Paso, Texas.

See Alejandro Carrillo’s biography

 

Butte-Silver Bow is partnering with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and Montana Technological University to develop a community Sustainability and Resilience Plan. County residents are invited to provide input, learn about the issues, and sign up for project working groups.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress represents the nation’s biggest investment in clean energy and providing local communities with the tools to fight climate disruption. These investments have the potential to boost local economic development tied to new sources of energy and to help communities prepare for climate change impacts such as drought, wildfire, and heat waves.

“There are going to be opportunities to boost our economy through new energy development, and Butte is well situated to benefit,” said Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher. “But we need to do this in a way that works best for our community, and that means planning ahead.” He said that this would include identifying potential locations and infrastructure needs for renewable energy developments such as solar, energy storage systems, or green hydrogen industries. Community engagement will help inform updates to BSB’s zoning code and the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Gallagher also announced that BSB will participate in a National Science Foundation pilot project for community-based climate adaptation planning. Community workshops will be scheduled in the spring to identify critical community issues and develop local solutions. Several potential issues have been discussed by the three project partners, but priority focus areas will be guided by public input.

BSB residents are encouraged to take an online community survey to prioritize issues of concern, identify development opportunities, and sign up to get involved in the Resilient Butte project. The 5-minute survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ResilientButte.

One issue of concern is the health risk to vulnerable groups from increasingly smoky summers and the future likelihood of severe heat waves, such as the one that killed hundreds of people last summer in Washington and Oregon. Another vulnerability is growing wildfire risk to Butte’s municipal watersheds in Basin Creek, Moulton and the Big Hole. Concerns also have been raised about the long-term stability of reclamation areas on the Butte Hill as hotter, drier summers desiccate sites that have been revegetated. Butte also may experience population growth as people move away from climate impacts elsewhere, such as megafires in California or coastal flooding.

The adaptation workshops in late spring will be informed by the Montana Climate Assessment, developed by Montana universities to evaluate climate trends and projected impacts to Montana agriculture, forests, water resources, and public health. The workshops will be led by EcoAdapt, a nonprofit in Washington state, and Virginia Tech University, which jointly received a National Science Foundation award to determine the best approach for community-based planning for climate solutions. Butte is among eight communities across the nation selected to participate in this pilot project.

Montana Tech faculty and students will provide technical expertise and research to support the project. The project will tap Tech’s expertise in restoration ecology, environmental engineering, and watershed education. Engineering students will assist with a community energy assessment and greenhouse gas inventory. On March 23, the Montana Tech Public Lecture Series will feature Dr. Cathy Whitlock, a Montana State University Regents Professor and lead author of the Montana Climate Assessment.

“Montana Tech appreciates the opportunity to partner with Butte-Silver Bow, NCAT and our community to support a healthy and prosperous future,” said Chancellor Les Cook. “There are issues that we need to address, and there are new opportunities that we would be wise to consider.”

NCAT will coordinate community participation and educational programs, said Executive Director Steve Thompson. “NCAT provides technical assistance across the nation to develop practical solutions in support of community sustainability, regenerative agriculture, and clean energy. We have offices in 10 states, but Butte has been our headquarters for 46 years. We look forward to supporting our hometown through the Resilient Butte project.” 

NCAT AmeriCorps VISTA member Rylie Yaeger will be help coordinate opportunities for local residents to get involved in the planning process. “We’re inviting community members to participate in conversations about sustainability, climate resilience and economic development opportunities for Butte,” Yaeger said.

To learn more or get involved, contact Rylie Yaeger at Ryliey@ncat.org or 494-6644. Or find Resilient Butte on Facebook or Instagram.

A new USDA grant will fund the use of crop-insurance data to improve education and extension efforts that help farmers and ranchers assess the ways extreme weather and climate disruption have caused production losses and to project future losses.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) with Montana State University (MSU) and the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis) have been awarded the five-year $1.5 million grant to collaborate with the USDA Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Hubs.

In 2020, the farmers and ranchers in the states representing the Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Hubs suffered insured crop losses of $2.6 billion. The cost that these farmers and ranchers paid for this coverage was $1.8 billion (USDA RMA, 2021). While most of the insured causes of loss in these two regions can be explained by extreme weather, the long-term loss trends continue to increase because of a changing climate.

“This project will utilize a diverse team, including climate hub personnel, extension faculty, agricultural economists, graduate students, and two climate hub fellows to develop and implement improved extension materials for communicating these growing risks associated with extreme weather and climate change,” said Dr. Eric Belasco, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Montana State University and Co-project Director.

This unique effort is part of a new national collaboration with the USDA Climate Hubs. This regional partnership covering two large portions of the U.S. further extends the outreach efforts the Climate Hubs to reach organizations such as the Cooperative Extension Service that need to address extreme weather and climate challenges.

“We at the Southwest Climate Hub have built producer-friendly tools such as the AgRisk Viewer that can help assess weather and climate risks, and this project will help expand and improve the use of this and other tools that serve the farmers and ranchers of the Southwest,” added Dr. Emile Elias, Director of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub.

Understanding the type of climate-risk assessment information that farmers and ranchers in these regions need is a key part of this work.

“We will begin our efforts by hosting a number of focus group sessions that target the broad range of farmers and ranchers, including socially disadvantaged and minority producers and the educational institutions that serve them,” said NCAT Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist Jeff Schahczenski. “It is critical to listen to the needs of farmers and ranchers on how best to meet the challenges of future extreme weather and climate risks.”

MSU, NCAT, and UC-Davis have collaborated on several efforts to better understand the complexity of federal crop-insurance products and why these products aren’t widely used by farmers and ranchers across the country.

“For example, the expanding use of a unique kind of insurance called the Pasture, Rangeland and Forage Rainfall Index (PRF) has been an increasingly important product for livestock producers,” said Dr. Tina Saitone, Associate Cooperative Extensions Specialist, with UC-Davis and rangeland systems expert. “This ‘index’ insurance insures against forage losses based on a complicated formula related to independent rainfall-index measurements, and it is not simple to understand how best to optimize its use in livestock-production risks.”

In addition to assisting producers to better understand the trends in weather and climate-related losses, crop-insurance loss data will also be used to help assess what changes in production practices might better mitigate future losses.

“Our overarching approach and philosophy is that there is no silver bullet to managing risk in production systems, especially risks associated with climate variability,” Belasco said. “Instead, we take a risk management portfolio approach, with the goal of providing clear and detailed information for farmers, ranchers, and professionals so they can better address the regional risks that they currently face and are predicted to face in the future.”

 

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THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY (NCAT) has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has field offices in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

USDA’s Climate Hubs are a unique collaboration across the department’s agencies. They are led and hosted by the Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service located at ten regional locations, with contributions from many agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation ServiceFarm Service Agency, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Risk Management Agency. The Climate Hubs link USDA research and program agencies in their regional delivery of timely and authoritative tools and information to agricultural producers and professionals.

Farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil are invited to join the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Soil for Water project. Building on an expanding peer-to-peer network of ranchers in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Montana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, and Virginia, NCAT has opened the program to crop farmers, ranchers, and land managers in all 50 states who are learning together how to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“The Soil for Water project is about implementing practical, cost-effective, and lasting ways to regenerate our soil — making farms, ranches, and communities more resilient in the face of climate disruption,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “We need to start thinking about healthy soil as permanent infrastructure that stores water to better withstand the impacts of droughts and floods. By connecting innovative farmers and ranchers, and tapping into their know-how, we see Soil for Water becoming a key player in regenerating and improving farmland across America. We welcome and encourage farmers and ranchers everywhere to join this free network at SOILFORWATER.ORG.”

To date, more than 90 farms and ranches have joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network. The project aims to include hundreds of farmers and ranchers who discover and share land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants, all while improving the profitability of their businesses.

James Burch’s Mississippi farm has been in his family for a century. After a long military career, it’s only recently that he started putting the land back into production. He’s passionate about locally grown produce, grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pigs. His main concern is mitigating erosion and making sure the soil on his land doesn’t wash away into nearby waterways. That’s why Burch joined the Soil for Water network.

“It’s important to build the soil to the point that you’ve got some kind of cover on it, and any time you get these big rains, it doesn’t take your topsoil to another area,” said Burch. “The vision for my farm is big. I’m taking it one step at a time and using proven methodologies to grow healthy food above ground and maintain healthy soil below ground.”

Unhealthy soil doesn’t absorb much water. Healthy soil acts like a sponge, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in an acre. Climate trends across much of the U.S. indicate longer, hotter drought periods punctuated by storms that often are more severe, according to a 2021 USDA report. Regenerative farming practices enable the soil to capture rainfall that otherwise might disappear as runoff. Economically, these practices can increase crop and forage production, drought resilience, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, they can improve soil health and biodiversity.

The expanded Soil for Water project encourages the adoption of regenerative land management practices through an interactive website, peer-to-peer forum, in-person and online networking opportunities, and the ability to connect with experts and land managers who are finding success with varied practices.

The Soil for Water project launched in 2015 with support from the Dixon Water Foundation and the Meadows Foundation. Project investors include grants from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), $980,000; The Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, $50,000; the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, $1 million; and the Kathleen Hadley Innovation Fund, $20,000.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project, and to join the free network, visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.