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 info@soilhealthwa.org!

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.

The Fields of Underwood


The third and fourth grant projects are headed by the Underwood Conservation District, as it first attempts to quantify the benefits of adding compost to vineyards and orchards, and secondly determines the benefits of biological tillage on overgrazed and degraded pastureland. Soil monitors will be installed to a vineyard and an orchard to measure the effects of compost on water retention, organic matter and beneficial microbes. On the over-grazed pastureland, a deep-rooted cover crop will be planted then assessed for soil quality and cost savings on feed costs.

Thus far, compost and soil monitoring sensors have been applied to one vineyard, and an orchard site has been selected and mapped. The pasture project is progressing well, with two fields divided into control and treatment areas, baselines soil samples collected and no till drill and seeding scheduled.

Into the Woods with the WEC

The second of five WA Soil Health Committee grants was awarded to the Washington Environmental Council for the Nisqually Community Forest Pilot. The project would demonstrate and champion longer rotation and forest soil protection practices. Such practices should create a slew of benefits to local ecosystems; from improved water quality, quantity of endangered species and increased carbon sequestration to improved forest resistance to drought, fires and insects. As part of their project, the WEC also hopes to distribute the Visualization of Ecosystems for Land Management Assessment (VELMA) developed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

The WEC is currently working with local partners to develop their forest management plan, which they hope to eventually share with other groups establishing sustainable forest projects, encouraging local landowners to sign on to the Nisqually Community Forest Plan. In light of the success and promise of VELMA plans, WEC is also working with the Department of Ecology to open up Clean Water Funds to landowners who employ sustainable forest practices.

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.

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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.

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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.

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