With a close-up view of an exhibit in the Royal BC Museum, microscopic organisms under the soil are made large.
These are the first reports for the eight new contracts for 2017-2020 and for the continuation in 2017 of the first round of projects, which received additional funding. The results are encouraging and, in some cases, fascinating. By demonstrating positive outcomes, these results will promote better soil practices in our state.
Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District:
A new project to measure and compare moisture retention in cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow.
This study is a home run. By comparing moisture retention every four inches up to 48” in side by side cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow, the study has these results so far:
- No net loss of moisture in cover crop fallow as compared to direct seed fallow
- Decrease in soil temperature in cover crop fallow, which benefits soil organisms
- Suppression of weeds without herbicides
- Reduction of soil compaction, which enhances moisture absorption and retention
- Reduction in soil erosion
- Early signs of possible increase in yield
San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.
Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.
The San Juan CD also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.
Underwood Conservation District:
Completion of original 2015-2016 project to monitor soil moisture in test plots in an orchard, using a control plot, a plot with compost, and a plot with compost and mulch
Results so far show no significant difference in moisture. We are waiting to hear if there is any difference in productivity (yield). We have questions about the 2017 workshop: how may attended, who were the presenters, and what did they present?
Washington Environmental Council:
Continuation of Nisqually Community Forest project which aims to create a template for sustainable forest practices in Pacific Northwest forests.
- The project has linked sustainable forest practices with improvements in both water quality and quantity
- DOE’s Clean Water Revolving fund was changed to allow sustainable forest projects including forest land purchases
- First certified Carbon Project with 520 acres saved from clear-cutting with Microsoft buying the carbon credits
- Set up protocol and step-by-step process for creating and selling carbon credits to offset the cost of land purchases
- Demonstrating that by growing trees longer, e., longer harvest rotations, the forest is more resilient and stores more carbon over time; older forests also provide better wildlife habitat
Whitman Conservation District:
Experiments with various cover crops in the Palouse to identify those best for fall and for spring and to determine whether pelletized compost adds extra yield or other ecological benefits. This will be evaluated in the spring of 2018.
Washington State University: Soil Health Field Day
Soil Health Field Day in Davenport at the experimental farm. Well attended with dozens of farmers and conservationists. Highlighted soil differences between no-till and conventional test plots.
Washington State University:
First year of three-year study of soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture in Eastern Washington.
- 60 soil samples were studied from 30 growers to establish a baseline.
- Some of the results were surprising, for example, that the amount of soil fines was inexplicably low in many sites.
- Several “exemplary soils” were discovered, which were also surprising. More research will be done to discover the secret of those exemplary soils
- This study includes a process of evaluating which soil health measurements are of value, and which are not.
“We are legion.” Mushrooms, or Fungi, are everywhere. They are an essential component of healthy soil. As old as the oldest plants, and far older than animals, fungi occupy their own branch in the tree of evolution. Without fungi, green plants would perish. They restrict the length of life and prevent abnormal reproduction of both plans and animals. Without fungi, neither plants nor animals would survive. We have much to learn about how to live productively with our fungal friends, but one novel partnership has proven successful in the Swiss Alps.
“Soils around the planet are soaking up far less carbon than we previously believed. This is a harrowing development. Soils absorb trillions of tons of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. However, recently released research revealed that soil will absorb far less carbon as we near the year 2100 than was previously estimated. That means this is yet another factor that will cause more warming to the planet.”
Dahl Jamail, “Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate,” October 3, 2016, Truthout
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.