Tag Archive for: Soil for Water

By Luz Ballesteros Gonzalez

The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s (NCAT) Soil for Water program and  Understanding Ag provided scholarships enabling seven beginning small-acreage livestock producers from four different states to attend the Soil Health Academy workshop in Uniontown, Alabama, May 17-19, 2022. Scholarships covered workshop costs, which included meals, on-site travel expenses, and materials such as notebooks and cooling cloths. The food provided was grown regeneratively at Bois d’Arc (BDA) Farms, highlighting the importance of local and the sense of community and environmental stewardship.

Soil for Water technical advisor and soil health movement pioneer, Dr. Allen Williams, was one of the speakers at the school, along with two other nationally famous leaders of the regenerative agriculture movement: Gabe Brown and Doug Peterson. The hands-on workshop took place at Dr. Williams’ BDA Farm.

soil health academy partipants

Photo: NCAT

Attendees learned soil health basics and regenerative grazing techniques—more specifically, how to plan adaptive grazing with multiple species to build resilience and profit. Participants experienced intensive mob grazing and the moving of a one-million-pound herd. Additionally, they broke into teams to learn by observation about soils, forage diversity, plant identification, and herd impact. The core message of the training was that “Regenerative agriculture is not a set plan; it is an adaptive plan.” The Soil Health Academy teaches according to the ‘6-4-3’ rule: Six Principles of Soil Health, Four Ecosystem Processes, and Three Rules of Adaptive Stewardship.

A goal of NCAT’s Soil for Water program is to show that regenerative agriculture can be done at any scale, at low cost, and by anyone—beginners and experienced producers alike. To learn about other upcoming regenerative agriculture workshops, check out  NCAT’s event calendar  or the Events and Conferences  section of the Soil for Water Forum.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has launched its Regenerator’s Atlas of America, an interactive storytelling map connecting farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil. The Regenerator’s Atlas of America is part of NCAT’s Soil for Water project.

“From Maine to Minnesota, Texas to Idaho, the Regenerator’s Atlas of America is sharing the stories of farmers and ranchers who are finding ways to catch and hold more water in the soils, making their businesses more resilient to drought, erosion, and extreme weather,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “The Regenerator’s Atlas of America is creating a virtual gathering place and information-sharing platform for the growing number of agricultural producers who know that soil health is key to a strong business.”

NCAT’s Soil for Water project is about connecting producers with each other to share land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants, all while improving the profitability of their businesses.

Doug Garrison, owner of DS Family Farm near Lincoln, Nebraska is among the nearly 200 farmers who have joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network, and he’s also added his place to the Regenerator’s Atlas of America. For 25 years, Garrison has been practicing regenerative grazing and wants to connect with other ranchers who are trying similar methods.

“My main interest in Soil for Water is to learn from others who are practicing regenerative ag in their specific context. We like to see what others are doing, think about what they are doing and see what their results are,” Garrison said. “Then, we may take some of their ideas or techniques and adapt it to our farm context and try it.  We look for both similar and opposite techniques from what we are doing. You never know where you might find the next breakthrough idea for your operation.”

Unhealthy soil doesn’t absorb much water. Healthy soil acts like a sponge, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in an acre. Climate trends across much of the U.S. indicate longer, hotter drought periods punctuated by storms that often are more severe, according to a 2021 USDA report. Regenerative farming practices enable the soil to capture rainfall that otherwise might disappear as runoff. Economically, these practices can increase crop and forage production, drought resilience, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, they can improve soil health and biodiversity.

The Regenerator’s Atlas of America joins the Soil for Water Forum as another way farmers and ranchers can connect and learn from one another.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project, add your pin to the Regenerator’s Atlas or chat at the Forum visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.

-30-

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has field offices in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Learn more and become a friend of NCAT at NCAT.ORG.

by: Hernan Colmenero

Tammi and Stephen Bell are the kind of couple who believe that less is more. Their motto seems to be to let the plants and animals do the work. That’s exactly what they’re doing at Waterline Farm in Pryor, Oklahoma.

Now, they are not completely hands off. Although they don’t usually mow their lawn, much to the chagrin of their neighbors, their goats do the mowing by grazing it. Similarly, they believe it’s important to first think about infrastructure. That means digging small trenches to direct the flow of water and building hügelkultur mounds to slow and keep water on their land a bit longer. It also means being patient and observing the land. They may agree with Michelangelo when he said “the task of the sculptor [is] to discover [the statue].” They want to discover the beauty of the land and help it become what it wants to become.

The Bell’s goal with Waterline Farm is to become a homestead demonstration site practicing regenerative agriculture with an emphasis on ecological stewardship. Their operation has seen its fair share of challenges, but the Bell family has turned them into opportunities. In 2019, a massive flooding event raised the level of Lake Hudson in Oklahoma, on which their property is located, and crept up several hundred feet onto the pasture. As the water receded, it created natural contour swales, which they used to plant sycamore and oak trees to increase water absorption and retention, therein slowing the flow of water to the lake. Realizing that their shoreline was fragile after seeing how their neighbor’s shoreline receded, they also planted several more sycamore and cypress trees closer to the shore, creating a wide strip of protection. Additionally, they made use of the silt the lake water brought and let the native grasses grow tall, allowing the deep roots to take hold in the soil. This added organic matter, created more soil aggregates, and increased the presence of wildlife, such as Monarch butterflies and a resident bald eagle. Both of those changes served to expand their silvopasture system while making progress on their goals of regeneration and wildlife conservation by simply giving the land more of what it could use.

But not everything can be accomplished by watching from afar. Stephen is adamant that one needs to get their hands dirty, their boots muddy, and observe the land from various places to get an idea of where the water is going and what the land is doing. Then, it’s important to act. In this way, he noticed that rainwater was flowing from his property into his neighbor’s. So, he built up hügelkultur mounds along that edge of his property to slow the flow of water. Most recently, he dug a trench with his 39-hp tractor to direct water to his orchard. All these actions serve to catch and hold more water in their soil, lessening the potentially damaging effects of floods.

Even though the Bell family doesn’t do it for the money (they’re both comfortably retired), they expect to turn a profit this year. They are saving money by not buying costly fertilizers and by supplementing their groceries with the food they grow and harvest themselves. Even their livestock enjoy the fruit of their harvests, which means less spent on buying animal feed. Moreover, their farm has garnered the attention of Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), the Oklahoma Forestry Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and perhaps most importantly, their fellow community members. Some of this has led to grants and other beneficial financial opportunities. Tammi says it is “the big circle coming back.”

The Bell family says that the peer-to-peer learning systems such as Women, Livestock, and the Land course and the Soil for Water Network, both part of NCAT, have been instrumental to their success. “People feel isolated and when they see others doing something similar, that works,” says Tammi.

Learn more in the YouTube video, Welcome to Waterline Farm.

In a new video series: Soil Health 101: Principles for Livestock Production, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Nina Prater makes the case for modeling soil health strategies after nature’s blueprint that produced that situation in the first place.

We all know the basic story. Plants photosynthesize sunlight and make sugars. They use the sugars to build leaves and stems and roots and seeds – pretty much everything that makes a plant a plant.

But at the same time, they share the wealth by exuding sugars from the roots to feed a “community” of soil microbes and fungi that in turn help keep the soil healthy for the plant.

A classic win-win situation.

“This layer of productive soil on top of the bedrock that we all have to work with is this vibrant living thing that has a community of life within it,” Nina says. “You have to treat it like a living thing because it is.”

And just like any living thing, there are practices that can keep it healthy and practices that can cause it harm.

Nina and other NCAT staffers produced a three-part webinar series – Soil Health 101 – through the ATTRA sustainable agriculture program, along with support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (Southern SARE).

You can watch the webinars here:

The series has a particular focus on the role livestock can play in soil health, but its strategies for keeping soil healthy is good information for any producer.

Those strategies are often described as the principles of soil health. Nina breaks it down to five.

  • Minimize disturbance to the soil
  • Maximize biodiversity on the land
  • Keep the soil covered at all times
  • Keep living roots growing in the soil during as much of the year as possible
  • Incorporate animals and use regenerative grazing practices

Nature provides models for how to put those principles of soil health into place, Nina says, and the webinar is full of practical examples of just that.

“To build soil health on our farm, we have to look to nature to figure out how to do that. Nature built all of these soils in the first place,” she explains. “The planet wasn’t created with all these, you know, lush terrains and prairie and everything. All that evolved over time. And it evolved with these ecosystem that built soil.”

To learn even more about the importance of soil health, and to connect with farmers, ranchers, and land managers taking steps to regenerate their soils, visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has officially re-launched its Soil for Water project, opening access to the free, voluntary network to all commercial farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States. Soil for Water aims to connect farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are interested in land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants all while sustaining a profitable business.

In this episode of Voices from the Field, NCAT Communications Director Emilie Ritter Saunders speaks with NCAT Regenerative Grazing Specialist Linda Poole about the expanded Soil for Water effort and the new community-building tools we’ve launched to support this expanding network.

Connect with the Soil for Water community at SOILFORWATER.ORG.

Contact Emilie Ritter Saunders and Linda Poole via email at emilies@ncat.org and lindap@ncat.org.

Please complete a brief survey to let us know your thoughts about the content of this podcast.

You can get in touch with NCAT/ATTRA specialists and find access our trusted, practical sustainable-agriculture publications, webinars, videos, and other resources at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG. Learn about NCAT’s other cutting-edge sustainable agriculture programs.

Meet NCAT’s sustainable agriculture team. Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram!

As a camera soars over an impressive piece of Rocky Mountain ranch land, the narrator says, “The soil that covers U.S. farm and ranch land holds a remarkable story. It’s a tale of success and setbacks. At its best, the soil beneath our feet is the source of life, food, and economic security.”

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has released its short film, Soil for Water, to highlight a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“Your soil health is going to keep you in business,” Texas rancher Tina Weldon says in the film. “If you take care of your soil, the land will give back to you in terms of your productivity.”

More than 120 farms and ranches in 20 states have already joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network. The project aims to include farmers and ranchers who discover and share land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants, all while improving the profitability of their businesses.

“If we’re going to be successful ranching in the long-term, we need to do a better job working together with other ranchers and learn how to do things regeneratively and profitably,” Montana rancher Dusty Emond explains in the short film.

The Soil for Water project is about implementing practical, cost-effective, and lasting ways to regenerate our soil — making farms, ranches, and communities more resilient in the face of climate disruption.

Unhealthy soil doesn’t absorb much water. Healthy soil acts like a sponge, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in an acre. Climate trends across much of the U.S. indicate longer, hotter drought periods punctuated by storms that often are more severe, according to a 2021 USDA report. Regenerative farming practices enable the soil to capture rainfall that otherwise might disappear as runoff. Economically, these practices can increase crop and forage production, drought resilience, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, they can improve soil health and biodiversity.

The expanded Soil for Water project encourages the adoption of regenerative land management practices through an interactive website, peer-to-peer forum, in-person and online networking opportunities, and the ability to connect with experts and land managers who are finding success with varied practices.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has opened registration for its Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, March 15 and 16.

The two-day conference will convene online, and the highly interactive format will connect agricultural producers and educators in a critical conversation about soil health. As was the first conference, it will be an in-depth exploration of agriculture’s sustainable future: on-farm practices, soil biology, carbon markets, and public policy. This year’s conference will focus on farm and ranch strategies to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“The inaugural Soil Health Innovations Conference last spring really exceeded our expectations,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “We were especially struck by the engagement of the participants, both during the conference and afterward through NCAT’s ATTRA sustainable agriculture program. It goes to show that we live in a time when producers and food companies, as well as policy makers, realize how important healthy soils are as we design practical approaches for supporting resilient regenerative agriculture.”

The conference will bring together leading experts and innovative farmers from around the U.S. to share the latest in soil science, best practices in soil management, opportunities for policy change, and the emerging technologies that will drive the future of sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Two sessions will focus on the potential to reduce downstream flooding through watershed-scale soil health practices. Keynote speakers will include University of Washington and Dig2Grow’s David Montgomery and regenerative rancher Alejandro Carrillo.

This year’s theme, Soil for Water, expands on NCAT’s nationwide effort of the same name to connect a growing network of regenerative farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

In addition, since one of the best parts of any conference is the chance to greet old friends and make new acquaintances, the conference will have virtual networking tables that allow participants to get together with each other, speakers, and NCAT staff.

There also will be virtual halls where participants can connect with exhibitors and conference sponsors.

Don’t miss this chance to examine current practices as well as the concepts, techniques, and practical applications that may be available in the future. Register to attend the conference, exhibit or sponsor the event at SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG.

Keynote Speaker: March 15

David R. Montgomery, University of Washington and Dig2Grow.com
Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

“Soil may be the least sexy resource upon which civilization depends, yet soil erosion and degradation have plagued societies in the past and pose challenges for feeding the future. Growing a Revolution relates visits to farmers around the world at the heart of a brewing soil health revolution that cuts through standard debates about conventional and organic farming.”

See David Montgomery’s biography.

 

Keynote Speaker: March 16

Alejandro Raul CarrilloAlejandro Raul Carrillo, Las Damas Cattle Ranch
Regenerative Grazing to Reverse Desertification


Using regenerative grazing techniques over the past several years, Alejandro dramatically increased the water filtration of his ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert 250 miles south of El Paso, Texas.

See Alejandro Carrillo’s biography

 

Soil for Water’s Regenerator’s Atlas of America is now live!

With producers and consumers in mind, we have developed a platform where regenerative farmers and ranchers across the country can create a profile for their operation to be placed on the Atlas. By planting a flag on the map, producers can let people know who they are and where they’re located, and how they are regenerating their soils to hold more water.

Users can explore these farm and ranch profiles by filtering for a variety of topics. For producers, it can increase your operation’s visibility, open new markets, and allow you to connect and learn from others in your field. For consumers, it can connect you with farms and ranches in your area that have local goods and services that benefit the community. 

If you are a producer, help us grow the Regenerator’s Atlas of America by planting your farm or ranch on the map today.

“Your soil health is going to keep you in business. If you take care of your soil, the land will give back to you.” Tina Weldon and her partner Orion are among a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil.

Join the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) on Thursday, February 17 for the world premiere of its film Soil for Water, with a panel discussion to follow.

NCAT’s Soil for Water project is working to capture and hold more water in the soil by building a growing network of farmers, ranchers, and land managers who are taking steps to regenerate the land and strengthen their businesses. This voluntary, free network is now available to farmers, ranchers, and land managers in all 50 states.

REGISTER HERE

Don’t miss the world premiere of Soil for Water on February 17 at 11:00 a.m. MST/1 p.m. EST and join us for a panel discussion with the nationwide team working to support regenerators, and two Texas ranchers who are already seeing success.

Click here to register for this free, informative film screening and panel discussion.

Farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil are invited to join the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Soil for Water project. Building on an expanding peer-to-peer network of ranchers in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Montana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, and Virginia, NCAT has opened the program to crop farmers, ranchers, and land managers in all 50 states who are learning together how to catch and hold more water in the soil.

“The Soil for Water project is about implementing practical, cost-effective, and lasting ways to regenerate our soil — making farms, ranches, and communities more resilient in the face of climate disruption,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “We need to start thinking about healthy soil as permanent infrastructure that stores water to better withstand the impacts of droughts and floods. By connecting innovative farmers and ranchers, and tapping into their know-how, we see Soil for Water becoming a key player in regenerating and improving farmland across America. We welcome and encourage farmers and ranchers everywhere to join this free network at SOILFORWATER.ORG.”

To date, more than 90 farms and ranches have joined the free and voluntary Soil for Water network. The project aims to include hundreds of farmers and ranchers who discover and share land management practices that improve soil health, catch more water in soil, reduce erosion, sustain diverse plant and animal life, and filter out pollutants, all while improving the profitability of their businesses.

James Burch’s Mississippi farm has been in his family for a century. After a long military career, it’s only recently that he started putting the land back into production. He’s passionate about locally grown produce, grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pigs. His main concern is mitigating erosion and making sure the soil on his land doesn’t wash away into nearby waterways. That’s why Burch joined the Soil for Water network.

“It’s important to build the soil to the point that you’ve got some kind of cover on it, and any time you get these big rains, it doesn’t take your topsoil to another area,” said Burch. “The vision for my farm is big. I’m taking it one step at a time and using proven methodologies to grow healthy food above ground and maintain healthy soil below ground.”

Unhealthy soil doesn’t absorb much water. Healthy soil acts like a sponge, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in an acre. Climate trends across much of the U.S. indicate longer, hotter drought periods punctuated by storms that often are more severe, according to a 2021 USDA report. Regenerative farming practices enable the soil to capture rainfall that otherwise might disappear as runoff. Economically, these practices can increase crop and forage production, drought resilience, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, they can improve soil health and biodiversity.

The expanded Soil for Water project encourages the adoption of regenerative land management practices through an interactive website, peer-to-peer forum, in-person and online networking opportunities, and the ability to connect with experts and land managers who are finding success with varied practices.

The Soil for Water project launched in 2015 with support from the Dixon Water Foundation and the Meadows Foundation. Project investors include grants from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), $980,000; The Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, $50,000; the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, $1 million; and the Kathleen Hadley Innovation Fund, $20,000.

To learn more about the newly expanded Soil for Water project, and to join the free network, visit SOILFORWATER.ORG.