How soil sparked a new sustainable ag movement

For three weeks every month, Ray Archuleta captivates audiences with a few handfuls of soil. He begins with two clumps, dropping them into water. The soil from a farm where the soil isn’t tilled holds together, while the tilled soil immediately disperses, indicating poor soil structure. Next, volunteers from the audience — mostly farmers and ranchers — pour water over a soil that grew a variety of crops, and it runs right through. A sample of tilled soil that grew only corn is like a brick, and the water sits on top. Water is the most precious resource for growing crops, and having a soil unable to absorb water is crippling for farmers.

The implications of Archuleta’s demonstrations are obvious to food producers, who see the fate of their acres in those clumps of soil. The message is powerful, and producers drive home knowing that soil is alive, that it can be sick or healthy, and that healthy soil can do some pretty amazing things — such as make a farm more resilient to drought, sequester enormous amounts of carbon, reduce erosion and support an ecosystem teeming with life.

Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, popularized these soil health demonstrations that by his estimates have reached more than 100,000 farmers and ranchers in the U.S. alone. He’s a pioneer of a movement that recently has stolen the spotlight from conventional agriculture.

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Soil Health on Rangelands and Pasture Lands

The Soil Health Institute joined the Foundation for Food and Agriculture, Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable, Noble Research Institute and numerous stakeholders to bring together producers and researchers for an important discussion about the state of science and research gaps in rangeland and pasture land soil health. Our goal is to provide farmers, ranchers and other land managers tools they can use to access information about soil health and to empower them to make more informed soil health decisions. Through this event, several key producer needs were identified and next steps outlined for producing science-based solutions for producers. Special thanks to our co-hosts for making this event a success.

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