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.

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 info@soilhealthwa.org!

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

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.

The Direct Seed Workshop

The Washington Soil Health Committee is involved in all kinds of advocacy and support for groups doing awesome things across the state! In late February, we co-sponsored an event called the Direct Seed Workshop. Farmers, agricultural experts and concerned citizens came out to Hartline, Washington to hear local speakers remark on Soil Health, Conservation Tillage, Cover Crop Trials, and various other programs.

Picture 2 (1)

More than 81 people attended the event–74 were, themselves, growers. The crowd was diverse, representing residents of Grant, Okanogan, Lincoln, Adams, Douglas and Kittitas Counties. Of the five speakers at the event, three are members of Washington State Soil Health Committee.

picture 4 (1)

Of particular interest at the workshop was the Farmed SMART Certification program. Proposed by the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, the program, when implemented, would allow Direct Seed to audit Farmed Smart producers to improve direct seeding practices. The program is beginning on a small scale on irrigated farms in Grant County.
By popular demand, the Soil Committee will be participating in a Field Day in the Hartline area this July, demonstrating direct seed equipment in action. Stay tuned to the Soil Committee website and social channels for more details.

picture 5 (1)

What’s up with the soil in Foster Creek?

The first of the five grants awarded by the Soil Health Committee went to Foster Creek, where the Douglas County Soil Monitoring Program is being set up to provide long-term soil testing and monitoring for dryland agriculture in low precipitation areas. This information will then be used in an educational campaign with farmers in the area. Thus far, the Foster Creek Conservation District has formed a partnership with Soil Scientist Tabitha Brown from the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District; Tabitha has agreed to help draft a strategic plan for implementation of the soil testing. There are plans in place to purchase equipment from Dan Harwood of the Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District in order to conduct the tests. Foster Creek is partnering with WSU to develop Soil Health workshops to share their knowledge, and knowledge of best practices for soil health, with the community.

Soil Health Progress Reports

As part of its founding mission and purpose, Washington State Soil Health Committee seeks to promote education, outreach, and facilitation of changes in land use which emphasize healthy soil and sustainable soil practices. In seeking this goal, the committee has awarded five grants to different projects currently in the process of changing land use. The committee sought projects that would demonstrate activities promoting soil health, and focus on conservation planning. Vineyards, forests, farms and pastures around the state will provide the laboratories for groups to test, document and publish strategies for improving soil health. These projects also have drawn in a wide assortment of partners, including WSU, UW School of Environmental Sciences, NRCS, Nisqually River Council, Nisqually Land Trust, Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Resource Group, Microbial Matrix Systems Inc, Domaine Pouillon Vineyard, Dirt Hugger, Forage, and DOE.

It is our hope that the impact of these projects will extend far beyond the parties directly involved, as many of the projects also have an educational component. A project out of Foster Creek is seeking to educate local farmers on best practices for direct seeding with a series of workshops, while several of our other grant project groups will share their findings with local communities, conservation districts, departments of the government, Tribes, and other interested people.

The projects are set to be completed by September 1st of this year–a comparatively short timespan, as the grants were awarded in December 2015. The ambitious crews behind the proposals remain undaunted and vigilantly working. The Soil Committee will be receiving periodic updates on each site. Stay tuned in to the Soil Committee blog and social channels to get the latest on these exciting soil health projects as they unfold and expand over the next few months!