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The Obi Wan Kenobi of Soil

The Obi Wan Kenobi of Soil

"Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root," Lal says. "In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil."
Ohio State University Professor Rattan Lal – National Geographic, September, 2008

In October, 2012, Dave Brandt and former Chief White stood together on the Brandt farm talking about Brandt’s passion and the NRCS mission - improving the soil to improve the lives of Americans.David Brandt has been tinkering with crops and soils to improve the health of both for nearly half a century.  It’s no wonder that his farm in Fairfield County looks vastly different from the surrounding farms, at least those that remain.  Sprawling mini-mansions with manicured lawns are rapidly replacing farms in this rural area outside of Columbus.   David Brandt sees his new neighbors driving along, glancing at the lovely sunflowers and mysterious crops growing in his fields.  Instead of ignoring his neighbors or resenting them for their part in converting prime farmland, he embraces them and invites them to his farm to see what he’s doing.  Every year he hosts an open house to show neighbors his fields, let them sit on his tractors, and hear the gospel according to David – the importance of healthy soil to everyone, not just farmers.

Brant started no-till farming 41 years ago.  He started experimenting with cover crops - crops grown to cover the soil during dormant periods – 36 years ago.  He’s tried new techniques, like intercropping different species of plants, planting oilseed radishes as a cover crop, and modified equipment to accommodate his experiments.  Needless to say, he’s learned a lot.  Fortunately for everyone, he has a lot to say and loves spreading the word on soil health.  He’s given presentations across the country and in Canada.  Former NRCS Chief Dave White calls him the obi wan Kenobi of soil health.

It seems Brandt was tailor made for the NRCSs’ Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program.  This program aims to accelerate technology transfer and adoption, exactly what Brant has done for years.  Funding Brandt’s proposal made sense because it would build on his existing work.  Brandt created a Soil Health Demonstration Farm where he’s already started educating farmers and conservation professionals on soil health.  He also partners with Ohio State University researchers to measure soil and plant health improvements resulting from his conservation techniques. 

In the fall of 2012, NRCS launched a new Soil Health campaign - “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.”  The campaign features Brandt in promotional materials distributed nationwide.  Dave Brandt impressed NRCS Chief White so much that he asked Brandt to host the campaign kick-off from his Soil Health Demonstration farm.