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First Annual Soil Health Short Course a Big Success

By Dee Ann Littlefield,  Public Affairs Specialist

Over 250 farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists recently convened in Wichita Falls, Texas for the First Annual Soil Health Short Course February 22-23. The course featured a variety of Oklahoma and Texas speakers, among them producers, scientists and professors from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Extension, several universities and the Noble Foundation. Attendees from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and even as far away as Australia enjoyed the two-day educational event.Over 250 people attended the first annual soil health short course

“I knew this area had a lot of interest in soil health, but this has exceeded my high expectations,” said Jule Richmond, immediate past president of the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “I’m so glad we chose this area for our first soil health short course. It has been an excellent program.”

The National Association of Conservation Districts has been promoting soil health through their Soil Health Champions program. The NRCS continues to emphasize soil health practices. Richmond had the idea that the conservation partners could combine their efforts into a workshop for producers to help share this information with a big audience. Thus, the first annual Soil Health Short Course was born.

The speaker panel was a popular session with questions from the audience, as was the field visit featuring soil pits, soil probe use and cover crop selection and storage. Attendees were offered data regarding soil properties related to management practices, as well as real life experiences from producers that were implementing various soil health practices, including no-till and cover crop planting.

“This is one of the spring’s best conferences from the great state of Texas,” said Oklahoma producer Jimmy Emmons, vice president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

Troy Reinke gives a rainfall simulator presentation

Attendees enjoyed the Rainfall Simulator demonstration, which provided an eye-opening, powerful example of how water infiltrates or runs off with different types of land management practices. Despite receiving the same amount of rainfall, the conventional tilled plot had almost 90 percent run off, resulting in erosion and no root moisture at 4” depth, whereas the no-till plot had 90 percent infiltration with nearly clear water filtering through the root system.

Donovan Taves, vice-president of the Louisiana Association of Conservation Districts commented that he has traveled to a lot soil health conferences. “I can’t believe the quality of presentations and information here,” said Taves. “It has been worth way more than the $100 cost of the course.”

Local media covered the popular conference.While the producers appreciated the focus on the land management aspect, one of their favorite parts of the course was the evening social. It helped them see how their on-farm efforts affect so many businesses and public consumers, and that some companies are placing an emphasis on those efforts. During the social, Tina Hendon with Tarrant Regional Water District talked about their financial incentive program to support farmers and ranchers who implement soil health conservation practices because that extends the life of their reservoirs through decreased siltation and reduces water treatment costs through improved water quality. Also featured in the social was Lairy Johnson with MillerCoors Brewery in Fort Worth. The Brewery is the third largest water consumer in the Tarrant Regional Water District. Johnson pointed out that good water makes great beer, therefore water quality is very important to their business. As a result, MillerCoors has also invested in providing landowners incentives to implement conservation practices that improve water quality.

The event was a partnership effort between the NRCS, Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. Nathan Haile, Texas soil health specialist, and Charlie Upchurch, Area 5 representative for the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board were the primary coordinators of the event at the request of the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

First Annual Soil Health Short Course a Big Success, Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS PAS (2017, March)