Tag Archive for: Soil for Water

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has launched its Regenerator’s Atlas of America, an interactive storytelling map connecting farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil. The Regenerator’s Atlas of America is part of NCAT’s Soil for Water project.

“From Maine to Minnesota, Texas to Idaho, the Regenerator’s Atlas of America is sharing the stories of farmers and ranchers who are finding ways to catch and hold more water in the soils, making their businesses more resilient to drought, erosion, and extreme weather,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “The Regenerator’s Atlas of America is creating a virtual gathering place and information-sharing platform for the growing number of agricultural producers who know that soil health is key to a strong business.”

NCAT’s Soil for Water project is about connecting producers with each other to 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.

Doug Garrison, owner of DS Family Farm near Lincoln, Nebraska is among the nearly 200 farmers who have joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network, and he’s also added his place to the Regenerator’s Atlas of America. For 25 years, Garrison has been practicing regenerative grazing and wants to connect with other ranchers who are trying similar methods.

“My main interest in Soil for Water is to learn from others who are practicing regenerative ag in their specific context. We like to see what others are doing, think about what they are doing and see what their results are,” Garrison said. “Then, we may take some of their ideas or techniques and adapt it to our farm context and try it.  We look for both similar and opposite techniques from what we are doing. You never know where you might find the next breakthrough idea for your operation.”

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 Regenerator’s Atlas of America joins the Soil for Water Forum as another way farmers and ranchers can connect and learn from one another.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project, add your pin to the Regenerator’s Atlas or chat at the Forum visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.

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THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY 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. Learn more and become a friend of NCAT at NCAT.ORG.

In a new video series: Soil Health 101: Principles for Livestock Production, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Nina Prater makes the case for modeling soil health strategies after nature’s blueprint that produced that situation in the first place.

We all know the basic story. Plants photosynthesize sunlight and make sugars. They use the sugars to build leaves and stems and roots and seeds – pretty much everything that makes a plant a plant.

But at the same time, they share the wealth by exuding sugars from the roots to feed a “community” of soil microbes and fungi that in turn help keep the soil healthy for the plant.

A classic win-win situation.

“This layer of productive soil on top of the bedrock that we all have to work with is this vibrant living thing that has a community of life within it,” Nina says. “You have to treat it like a living thing because it is.”

And just like any living thing, there are practices that can keep it healthy and practices that can cause it harm.

Nina and other NCAT staffers produced a three-part webinar series – Soil Health 101 – through the ATTRA sustainable agriculture program, along with support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (Southern SARE).

You can watch the webinars here:

The series has a particular focus on the role livestock can play in soil health, but its strategies for keeping soil healthy is good information for any producer.

Those strategies are often described as the principles of soil health. Nina breaks it down to five.

  • Minimize disturbance to the soil
  • Maximize biodiversity on the land
  • Keep the soil covered at all times
  • Keep living roots growing in the soil during as much of the year as possible
  • Incorporate animals and use regenerative grazing practices

Nature provides models for how to put those principles of soil health into place, Nina says, and the webinar is full of practical examples of just that.

“To build soil health on our farm, we have to look to nature to figure out how to do that. Nature built all of these soils in the first place,” she explains. “The planet wasn’t created with all these, you know, lush terrains and prairie and everything. All that evolved over time. And it evolved with these ecosystem that built soil.”

To learn even more about the importance of soil health, and to connect with farmers, ranchers, and land managers taking steps to regenerate their soils, visit SOILFORWATER.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

 

Soil for Water’s Regenerator’s Atlas of America is now live!

With producers and consumers in mind, we have developed a platform where regenerative farmers and ranchers across the country can create a profile for their operation to be placed on the Atlas. By planting a flag on the map, producers can let people know who they are and where they’re located, and how they are regenerating their soils to hold more water.

Users can explore these farm and ranch profiles by filtering for a variety of topics. For producers, it can increase your operation’s visibility, open new markets, and allow you to connect and learn from others in your field. For consumers, it can connect you with farms and ranches in your area that have local goods and services that benefit the community.

If you are a producer, help us grow the Regenerator’s Atlas of America by planting your farm or ranch on the map today.

Registration is now open for the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, March 15 and 16.

This two-day virtual conference will be highly interactive, offering producers and educators from around the country the chance to participate in a critical conversation about soil health.

Speakers will include David Montgomery of Dig2Grow, Alejandro Carrillo of UnderstandingAg, and agroforestry expert Dr. Hannah Hemmelgarn. Find the full conference agenda, here.

Emerging technologies and innovative practices are shining a light on the importance of healthy soils for the future of regenerative agriculture. These promising approaches are coming at a time when there is a growing commitment among producers, food companies, and policy makers to improve the resilience of healthy food systems at their very roots.

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.

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.

Details and Registration

When: March 15-16, 2022

Where: Online

Registration: SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG

Organizations, agencies, and individuals who would like to sponsor the conference can find sponsorship information here.

Exhibitor and vendor information is available here.

For more information, contact Rex Dufour at rexd@ncat.org or Sandra Booth at sandrab@ncat.org or call 406-494-4572.

“Your soil health is going to keep you in business. If you take care of your soil, the land will give back to you.” Tina Weldon and her partner Orion are among a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

Join the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) on Thursday, February 17 for the world premiere of its film Soil for Water, with a panel discussion to follow.

NCAT’s Soil for Water project is working to capture and hold more water in the soil by building a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to regenerate the land and strengthen their businesses. This voluntary, free network is now available to farmers, ranchers, and land managers in all 50 states.

REGISTER HERE

Don’t miss the world premiere of Soil for Water on February 17 at 11:00 a.m. MST/1 p.m. EST and join us for a panel discussion with the nationwide team working to support regenerators, and two Texas ranchers who are already seeing success.

Click here to register for this free, informative film screening and panel discussion.

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.

Mark your calendars for NCAT’s second Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15 and 16, 2022. This will be a virtual conference offering plenty of networking opportunities with presenters and fellow attendees.

Join us to hear from presenters such as David Montgomery of the University of Washington and Dig2Grow, Alejandro Carillo of UnderstandingAg, and agroforestry expert Dr. Hannah Hemmelgarn.

Watch our conference website, SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG, for a complete agenda and registration information.

We look forward to seeing you in March for this important event.

Brown cows graze in a freshly opened pasture that looks healthy with its tall grass.

Adaptive high stock-density grazing. Photo: Pasture Project

By Lee Rinehart, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, NCAT Northeast

Back in the late 1990s, I was a new county Extension agent in Texas. I met a Brangus rancher who became a friend and demonstration cooperator, and I pitched him a topic that he became immediately interested in. We laid out 11 paddocks and began grazing 24 heifers in a daily rotational system. The lightbulb went on in my head when I looked about the paddock to assess how much they had grazed, and I noticed that all of the curly dock had been stripped bare. What I had observed was a change in grazing behavior, caused by a controlled grazing system that decreased the heifers’ grazing selectivity.

Fast forward to 2020, and the landscape of managed grazing has changed. We understand that we are dealing with a biological system driven by diversity. The powerful principles we learned from management intensive grazing have been refined into an adaptive system of livestock production that can actually regenerate the soil, the water cycle, and the land.

Adaptive grazing improves forage availability and ecosystem functioning, and strengthens grazing landscapes with diversity and resilience. ATTRA has brought together a suite of resources for farmers and ranchers, of all scales and for all species of grazing animals, who are interested in transitioning to an adaptive grazing system.

Consulting the Expert

Black cows move from the right of the photo, which is trampled and grazed pasture, to the left, which is lush and tall grass.

Cows moving to fresh pasture, Sieben Live Stock Company, Montana. Photo: Cooper Hibbard

Dr. Allen Williams, a leading expert in regenerative, adaptive grazing, recommends providing extended periods of rest between short, high stock-density grazing periods on diverse pastures.

This allows for optimum recovery of forages and increases overall forage dry matter production. It also contributes significantly to soil health through the addition of organic matter.

Williams (2019) speaks of three principles that characterize this system:

  1. The Principle of Compounding – our actions result in a series of compounding and cascading events that are either positive or negative.
  2. The Principle of Diversity – highly diverse and complex pastures create positive compounding effects.
  3. The Principle of Disruption – planned, purposeful disruptions build resilient systems with more vigor and diversity and create positive compounding effects.

As such, adaptive grazing is goal-oriented, focuses on stock density and not stocking rate, and is necessarily flexible.

A line of sheep move along a fence through tall, brown grass in front of a mountain backdrop.

Ewes making their way from night camp to the day’s grazing in a dryland meadow. Photo: Dave Scott, Montana Highland Lamb

Rotations, grazing-residue heights, rest periods, and grazing seasonality are never the same throughout the year. This grazing system uses frequent movement and adequate pasture rest for plant root-system recovery, and is highly reliant on temporary fencing (Williams, 2016).

ATTRA Can Help You With Your Grazing System

ATTRA offers detailed guidance on developing your grazing system through instructional videos, podcasts, and in-depth publications.

Videos

Video Series: Adaptive Grazing with Allen Williams

Recorded in November 2019 at the Piney Woods School in Mississippi, Allen Williams leads participants on a pasture walk and discusses the various elements good grazing and pastured livestock production with his engaging style.

  1. Soil evaluation, aggregation, and biology

    Grazing sheep disappear into the tall grass of a Montana flatland with a farmhouse and mountains in the background.

    Stockpiling grass for grazing in southwest Montana.
    Photo: Dave Scott, Montana Highland Lamb

  2. Mycorrhizal fungi
  3. Forage density, paddock size, and animal movement
  4. Forbs and medicinal compounds
  5. Animal density, nutrition, and parasite management
  6. Setting up an adaptive grazing system

Spring Pasture Management series with Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director, Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

  1. Winter Paddock Recovery
    Margo Hale provides a short tour of one of her pastures as spring approaches, and discusses how she manages winter paddock recovery after feeding round bales.
  2. Forage Diversity in Pastures
    Hale discusses the importance of forage diversity in pastures to provide high quality forage and to build pasture soil health.

Regenerative Grazing from the Ground Up highlights Greg and Forrest Stricker’s dairy herd grazing and their use of warm season annuals to supplement their herd with high quality forage while building soil health. Filmed at a Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Field Day at Spring Creek Farms in Wernersville, PA, September 19, 2019.

Podcasts

Allen Williams and Adaptive Stewardship Management Grazing
https://attra.ncat.org/allen-williams-and-adaptive-stewardship-management-grazing-podcast/

This podcast, recorded in November 2019, provides a “big picture” view of pastured livestock production and offers insight on the development of Allen’s techniques.

Regenerative Grazing: Outcomes and Obstacles
https://attra.ncat.org/regenerative-grazing-outcomes-and-obstacles/

In this episode, Dave Scott and Lee Rinehart, both specialists with NCAT’s ATTRA – the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – have a conversation about regenerative grazing.

Publication

Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing (IP306D)
https://attra.ncat.org/product/pasture-rangeland-and-grazing-management/

This publication, published in 2020, contains an explanation of the principles and practices, and further resources, for the kind of grazing Allen advocates in the videos. It’s a good supplement to the videos for digging deeper into the intricacies of grazing and pasture management.

Nutrient Cycling in Pastures (IP136D)
https://attra.ncat.org/product/nutrient-cycling-in-pastures/

This publication looks at the pathways and drivers that move nutrients into, out of, and within pasture systems. It attempts to provide a clear, holistic understanding of how nutrients cycle through pastures and what the producer can do to enhance the processes to create productive, regenerative, and resilient farm and ranch systems. Effective management of nutrient cycling in pastures is simply understanding how nature cycles nutrients in natural grasslands and then mimicking those processes.

Building Healthy Pasture Soils (IP546P)
https://attra.ncat.org/product/building-healthy-pasture-soils/

This publication is a supplement to ATTRA’s Managed Grazing Tutorial session on Pasture Fertility, and introduces properties of soil, discusses evaluation and monitoring of soil quality, and introduces grazing management principles and techniques that promote healthy soil.

Tutorial

Managed Grazing
https://attra.ncat.org/tutorials/

Have you heard that changing the way you manage your grazing animals can change the condition of your land and finances for the better? Interested in finding out more about how managing your livestock can improve your soil health, your pasture condition and your bottom line? This tutorial features sessions taught by National Center for Appropriate Technology specialists who are also livestock producers. They share years of experience managing their own pastures to inspire you to start wherever you are and build or refine your own managed grazing systems. Detailed presentations and real-world examples will get you on the road to managed grazing.

References

Brown cows grazing a pasture, but their heads cannot be seen the grass is so high. Also visible in the fields is a diversity of plant species.

High stock density removes grazing selectivity thereby utilizing forages more efficiently, and returns large amounts of carbon back to the soil through trampling of uneaten forage. Photo: Understanding Ag, LLC

Williams, Allen. 2016. Adaptive Grazing and Relationship to Soil Health (presentation). www.sfa-mn.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Allen.2017.DirtRich-1.pdf.

Williams, Allen. 2019. Personal Communication.