Final Grant Reports: Foster Creek

At the beginning of the year, we awarded Foster Creek Conservation District (FCCD) a grant for the purposes of establishing the Douglas County Soil Monitoring Program to provide long-term soil testing and monitoring for dryland agriculture in low precipitation areas.

Nearly a year later, the Foster Creek Conservation District has come a long way. They not only developed a plan for FCCD to use as a foundation for local soil testing and monitoring, they have also purchased key lab equipment with which to enact this plan. For their community outreach component, FCCD has collaborated with Okanogan Conservation District to run the Eastern Washington Soil Health Tour, with a second workshop in the works.

Foster Creek Conservation District’s full report is available here. Attend the WACD Annual Meeting to hear a presentation on their work, as well as all the other 2016 WA State Soil Committee grant projects.

Soil Committee to Attend WA Association of Conservation Districts Annual Meeting

Each year, the Washington State Soil Health Committee awards a number of grants for projects in our state seeking the sustainable advancement of soil health. Many of these grants are awarded to Conservation Districts around Washington State. Truly, Washington’s Conservation Districts make invaluable partners in the soil health revolution. The WA Soil Committee is proud to attend the WA Association of Conservation Districts Annual Meeting this November to meet with the people doing amazing things in conservation districts around the state. We will also be presenting on this year’s five grant projects. The Annual Meeting will be held November 28-30 at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, WA. For more information and to register for the conference, visit the WACD website.

The WA State Soil Health Committee Attends the First Soil Health Institute Annual Meeting

At the end of July, more than 130 soil health experts convened in Louisville, Kentucky to brainstorm about the future of soil health research. Of the many scientists, university specialists, farmers, experts, and NGO leaders in attendance, the WA State Soil Health Committee was the only state soil committee invited to attend!

Ultimately, the conference aimed to identify key areas of research and standards of measurement that could then form convincing, relevant, scientifically grounded recommendations for policy makers and agricultural producers.

The convention marked the first annual meeting of the Soil Health Institute, an organization headed by Dr. Wayne Honeycutt whose mission is “to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of the soil.”

WA State Soil Health Committee representative Gary Farrell was thrilled to be among the ranks of soil health advocates unifying behind basic soil health goals. Those goals include conducting a national assessment of soil health, identifying research gaps regarding the relationship between crop rotations and microbial soil health, creating a “digital decision support tool that enables growers to anticipate which soil amendments and crop rotations will have the greatest impact on a field’s annual return.”

For more information about the Soil Health Institute and their first annual meeting, check out their press release about the event, here.

Secrets of Life in the Soil – Scientific American

There are animals under our feet. Billions of them. A miraculous, biodiverse jungle in the soil. Professor Diana Wall, soil ecologist at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, is working to uncover the secrets of a wildly diverse animal kingdom in our soils. She has studied a group of soil animals, nematodes, in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica where she has been able to isolate the effects of drought on these soil organisms. She has shown that when soil ecosystems are devastated by erosion, pollution, pesticides, drought, and other climate change effects, the resulting soil degradation releases billions of tons of stored carbon, threatens global food production, and reduces water and air quality, Healthy soil is responsible for filtering our water and our air in ways few non-scientists appreciate. Professor Wall founded the new Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, with more than 100 other scientists, to map the underground factories of terrestrial life across the globe.

Read the full article in Scientific American.

Water Bears’ Super Survival Skills Give Up Secrets – Scientific American

“Forget Superman,” writes Lee Billings, physics and space editor for Scientific American. Our soils contain the most indestructible living being on Earth, a soil organism, the Tardigrade, or “Water Bear,” an eight-legged aquatic invertebrate found everywhere on our planet. Recent genome sequencing of the Tardigrade have uncovered a genetic protein that suppresses damage from radiation, dehydration, and other destructive natural forces.  The damage suppressor, or “Dsup,” has been introduced to human kidney cells: “ When the researchers inserted Dsup into cultured human kidney cells, the protein boosted the cells’ tolerance to x-ray damage by about 40 percent.” Move over, Superman.

What’s Up in Underwood?

One of the WA State Soil Committee’s yearly grants this year went to the Underwood Conservation District for the purpose of quantifying the benefits of adding compost to vineyards and orchards, as well as determining the benefits of biological tillage on overgrazed and degraded pastureland. Now, we have a promising video update from Underwood! Take a look at their progress.

National Association of Conservation Districts Call for Soil Champions!

The NACD is seeking to create a Soil Health Champions Network of farmers, ranchers, woodland managers, and other landowners across the country doing their part to promote soil health in their communities. Through various outreach activities conducted jointly by NACD, State Associations, Local Districts and individual Soil Health Champions, the Soil Health Champions Network will raise awareness of, and increase the adoption of, soil health systems.

We at the Washington State Soil Health Committee want to make sure our own Soil Health Champions here in Washington are strongly represented! If you feel like you or someone you know might qualify for inclusion in the Soil Health Champions Network, please contact the WA State Soil Health Committee at!

For more details on this NACD project, please see the attached informational flyer.

The Magic of Mushrooms

One of the few bright spots in global climate change picture is the magical role of mushrooms. Not magic mushrooms, but every form of fungi. Fungi generate humus soils across the Earth. They carry nutrients between plants underground. They don’t like to rot, so they create antibiotics, which we use to cure human infections. In a cubic inch of soil, there can be more than eight miles of mushroom mycelium. Together, across the planet, mycelium is, as Paul Stamets identifies it, the Earth’s natural Internet.

The largest living organism on the planet is a mycelium, a mycelium mat 2,200 acres in size in Eastern Oregon. When other things die off, for example after the asteroid extinction of dinosaurs, the fungi survived. They can clean up our toxic waste sites, convert extra carbon into edible mushrooms, and basically remanufacture hydrocarbons into carbohydrates: fungal sugars.

Certain mushrooms act as insecticides. Others kill flu viruses. They may be able to produce an organic fuel, which could reduce our production of harmful greenhouses gases. More mushroom miracles are on the way as scientists around the world test their powers.

For more information on the magic and majesty of mushrooms, check out this TedTalk by mycologist Paul Statmets!

Biochar in the San Juan

The final project awarded a Soil Health Committee grant is in the San Juan Conservation District, chosen to work on demonstrating the benefits of biochar in drylands as well as irrigated agriculture. Biochar holds many possibilities, from increased nutrient retention to carbon sequestration in soil and improvement of air quality. As biochar is made from woody biomass, the success of this project could incentivize forest restoration, providing a market for the woody biomass.

So far, a team of graduate students under the direction of University of Washington’s Dr. Tom DeLuca have been assembled to plan the project. Field sessions will begin soon, and additional funding is being sought to make the most of the opportunity.