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Grant recipient explores soil health’s impact on drought resiliency

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing in the University of Missouri’s inventive ideas on ways to build drought resiliency through improved soil health.

The project is one of 13 drought adaptation ideas selected this year to receive a Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS. The goal is to increase farmers’ understanding of the effects of management practices on soil health, water capacity and infiltration, and the project’s lead researcher Tim Reinbott, said he couldn’t be more excited about it.

“We have wanted to do this project for awhile, but we didn’t have the capacity. By receiving the CIG grant, we now have the opportunity to reach a wider range of people and help them make their lands more resilient to drought,” Reinbott said.

It’s hard not to get excited about soil health when it has the ability to improve so many aspects of productive land, he added.

Conservation practices that improve soil health can help increase organic matter, reduce soil compaction, improve nutrient storage and cycle and increase water infiltration and water availability to plants. These benefits can lead to a reduction in inputs and higher yields.

These practices and their effects on soil health will be demonstrated through field days, workshops and clinics.

Field days often involve farmers bringing in soil from their working field and their fence row, which typically hasn’t been plowed or disturbed in several years. A test for active carbon is performed on the spot to give farmers an idea of their soil health and then sent off for further analysis that they can access on the university website.

“We call it our wow factor, because the response is usually ‘WOW’ when farmers physically see the difference in soil health between till and no-till soil,” said Reinbott.

In order to reach as many people as possible, mobile demonstrations will be used throughout the winter. A soil health trailer equipped with real-life plant displays will travel to different spots to test soils and show how different levels of coverage affect soil infiltration and run-off.

“The interest for soil health is there, and we want to make sure we keep that fire going at all times of the year,” Reinbott said.

The more education and outreach that is provided directly to farmers and ranchers, the better the chance at helping them mitigate the effects of drought, he added.

Another component of the project is a web-based, interactive soil health database, which should be on line next fall after more data is collected.

“You will be able to click on your soil type and see how different management practices increase or decrease soil health and soil water,” said Reinbott.

This can help farmers and ranchers make management decisions that have been shown to work best on their soil types, he added.

“The concept of soil health and quality and how it relates to tolerance for drought is new to a lot of our landowners. Thanks to NRCS and the grant, we can make sure farmers and ranchers are better equipped to handle drought,” said Reinbott.

Visit NRCS’s website for more information on soil health , drought and CIG grants.