by Kara Kroeger
As an effective land steward/manager we often contend with a number of factors that affect our plans and goals for our terrain. We are constantly faced with fluctuations in weather conditions that swing between droughts to floods. Due to these constant changes it can sometimes be hard to determine whether our management decisions are working for us in the long-run because it is hard to determine how the land will recover from these fluctuations.
Since regenerative land changes occur over time it can sometimes seem like we take two steps forward and one step back as we face these challenges. Thus, we may never really be able to accurately quantify our progress and adapt our plans for greater resiliency. We often become so overwhelmed by our to-do list that we forget to monitor our management practices and how well they are working for us. Unfortunately, this can leave us questioning our strategies when we have no hard evidence to look back upon. Operating like this can result in a loss of profit and land productivity.
This is where an annual monitoring plan can assist us in making better decisions. As agricultural producers we often learn through information shared with one another about what works for us region by region. With the information we collect we can tell our story to others about how our strategies worked- or not- and whether similar practices should be implemented in other areas. By taking the time to monitor we can progress the regenerative agriculture movement and improve our ecosystems as a whole. By sharing quantifiable evidence regarding our management strategies we all grow and learn to become better producers.
So the question is how do we make time for this when we already have so many other pertinent things to tend to first? The first solution is to find a monitoring strategy that is time efficient yet still quantifies the results. There are a plethora of strategies to choose from but some of the ones we have found to work best include setting up a transect or defining an area to be monitored. By applying a few or all of the following techniques you can better understand what is happening on your land:
- Soil testing –usually done every 1-2 years:
- Phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) – soil microbial community testing
- Haney soil report
- Water holding capacity
- Slake test
- Line intercept and point-center quadrant method species ID (annual and perennial) and coverage (% live plants, % bare ground, % litter, % manure)
- Seasonal photo points
- Rainfall level collection
- Bulls-eye method
- Livestock integration recordkeeping https://pasturemap.com https://maiatechnology.com.au/
As a whole, with the right team of folks (generally speaking four qualified people) involved, this process should not take you more than an hour and a half per designated area to perform these tasks. While it is possible to monitor without a botanist, you will obtain a better understanding of your land if you can assess and monitor the plant succession on your land. You will also need to learn how to correctly take a soil sample for the kind of soil test you implement. Your local NRCS office should be able to help you connect with an agent who can help you with both of these needs. Also, some NRCS offices may help with the cost of the soil test.
Since land changes occur over time and they are effected by a number of factors it is suggested that you monitor the same area for a minimum of six to 10 years to truly quantify the results. Some of the strategies above may only be done once a year while others, like photo points, could be done biannually or quarterly to tell a more thorough story.
Over time, the information can be compared and compiled to help you and your neighbors make effective land management decisions that can improve your production efficiency and bottom-line.
Going into the details of each of these techniques is beyond the scope of this blog but this ATTRA publication (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=586) can help spell some of it out for you. For further questions please contact the ATTRA hotline at 1-800-346-9140.
Additionally, NCAT will be hosting a Monitoring Workshop on Friday, June 28, 2019, from 5-8 p.m. at the Roam Ranch in Fredericksburg, TX. We will briefly go over each of these techniques and other important information to get you on your way to efficiently monitoring your land. We hope that you can join us for this event. If you are interested in attending, please call or email Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Kara Kroeger at 479-587-3479 or KaraK@NCAT.org.