Project: Innovative Soil Health Assessment and Improvement in Thurston County

Project Manager:
Amy Hatch-Winecka
Thurston Conservation District
Deputy Director
AmyHW@thurstoncd.com
2918 Ferguson St. SW
Bldg #1 Suite A
Tumwater, WA 98512
(360) 754-3588 x103

Goal: To determine biological soil health for diverse land managers in Thurston County as a measure of overall soil health in the county.  Biological testing will be done on soils for 16 identified properties, with diverse production, including beef, chicken, dairy, vegetables, and hay. The results will be shared through outreach events and farm tours, with technical assistance for correcting low levels of biological activity.

Project Update: Fall 2018
Thurston Conservation District staff has completed the following deliverables outlined in the project for Year 1:

  • Performed biological soil health testing on 12 out of the 16 properties, representing a range of production types. Summer outreach events have identified the remaining 4 properties, which to receive testing and recommendations.
  • Recommended site-specific management practices to improve soil health to the 12 out of 16 cooperators.
  • Provided technical assistance to implement practices and follow up with cooperators.
  • Biological testing services offered to producers throughout Thurston County, with plans
    to increase outreach and marketing of this service as capacity increases in 2019.
  • Hosted two outreach events:
    • Small Equipment Demonstration to implement soil health practices – August 4, 2018
    • Soil Health Practices for Vegetable Operations – June 21, 2018

The local results help us to better understand effective methods for improving soil health in our region. The test results help us to better understand microbial activity, aggregate stability across different soil types, and how to recommend site-specific management practices that are timed and implemented appropriately for our region.

In addition, the results give us an important local data set which springboards both: 1) our educational efforts around soil health and conservation, and 2) community discussion about soil as the foundation for resource management, food systems, and our agricultural economy. As the South Sound Food Systems Network (a local coalition of farmers, consumers, agencies and organizations) focuses on some of the foundational elements of securing a thriving local food system, soil health has come to the forefront of the discussion. We intend to continue to advocate and support soil health practices: 1) directly in partnership with producers who are implementing on the ground practices, 2) in community forums and networks that are working on strengthening agricultural viability and food security, 3) in educational messaging to the general public/consumer who engages in purchasing and decision-making daily that impacts our area’s soil health. These project results will act as a catalyst for conversation and bring relevancy to soil health education and conservation practices to a broader audience in our area by helping individuals from diverse sectors understand how they impact the soil.

There will be value added by extending our work. So far, we have just begun testing for year two of the soil health grant. With these results, we will be able to determine short-term improvements that have occurred from the recommended practices. With these results, we will also be able to look at how soil health changes based on production types and support recommendations with local on the ground examples and field tours. As we implement Year two of testing, it will be an opportunity to reconnect with our cooperators, see their progress in implementation, and see where we can provide more assistance to further their success. Implementing soil health practices and maintaining these practices year to year is a long-term process for our cooperators. We are looking forward to hosting field tours to discuss and demonstrate the results achieved during year two.

Click to View the Full Report

Here are detailed descriptions of the workshops we offered this year with the help of the soil health grant and our attendance of these workshops:

Soil Health for Vegetable Production – August 4, 2018
Attendance: 35

The health of your soil could be hugely impacting your garden. Join us for a field day at Urban Futures Farm in Olympia to learn about the importance of soil health and how to influence your own garden to increase production, maximize efficiency, and preserve healthy soils. We’ll be covering soil health techniques of crop rotation, cover cropping and under seeding, a variety of tillage methods, nutrient management, composting. The focus will be on building soil and managing for soil health organically.

Small Equipment Demonstration for implementing Soil Health Practices – June 21, 21018
Attendance: 8

Curious how to operate the small equipment that Thurston CD rents out? Join us on the longest day of the year for an evening outdoor demonstration to learn the ins and outs of our Manure Spreader, Spin Spreader, and Drop Spreader and how they can be used to improve your soil health. Determining the right rate, source, timing, and placement of fertilizer and manure applications can improve soil health and management of your pasture or crop field. This is your chance to get your questions answered, see the equipment in action prior to renting, and learn about how each piece of equipment can be used for maximum efficiency.