Tag Archive for: Soil Health

Roberts Ranch was donated to the YMCA by Bob Roberts of Comfort, TX in the 1990’s. Since then it has served as a place where families and children can gather to explore the outdoors in a beautiful Hill Country setting. The pristine habitat, native plants, and wildlife make the ranch the perfect laboratory for learning about and exploring nature. The property has served hundreds of children through outdoor education program sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and hosts conservation and stewardship workshops, hiking, tours, and environmental education field trips for youth and adults.

The Roberts Ranch has always been a working cattle ranch as well. In 2019, cattle were removed from the ranch in order to let the land rest and to undertake various restoration projects that include brush clearing, cross-fence repair, and riparian restoration. Cattle will be reintroduced in 2022.

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Texastopia is located outside of Blanco, TX along the Blanco River. It is the property of Pete Van Dyke and his wife Elenor Goode. Pete owns Van Dyke Earthworks & Design, a permaculture consulting business. They started managing a 10 acre Bermuda grass pasture on the homestead in 2017. Prior to their arrival it had been used to propagate coastal hay for 30 plus years. The soil was very hard and compacted. It is their intention to regenerate this pasture using various permaculture strategies to decrease compaction, improve soil health, and increase above and below ground biodiversity. Additionally, they plan to incorporate silvopasture practices that includes livestock grazing.

In the fall of 2017 they used the subsoil ripper to help relieve the compaction, without disturbing too much of the ground cover. A subsoil ripper creates thin rips in the ground at various depth on contour to relieve compaction and allow moisture to penetrate the soil. The first time using the ripper they were only able to get down about 6 inches due to the heavy compaction from the disturbance caused by years of hay farming. They then broadcast cover crop seeds into the slightly disturbed soil. Their first year of cool season cover crops in 2017 did not do that well. The Bermuda grass was still thick so a lot of the cover crop seeds did not germinate. Also the deer pressure was high which further reduced germination. Two transects have been created in the field as described below.

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Located Center Point, Texas in East Kerr County, Zanzenberg Farm specializes in raising heritage breed pigs on pasture. Much like heirloom vegetables, heritage breeds were very common on the American homestead centuries ago. Farm owners Justin and Kayte Graham take extra care to raise these animals on open pastures where they are free to breathe in fresh air, take in the natural sunlight, root in the nutrient rich soil and enjoy daily mud baths. The hogs are humanely raised and finished on whey. Their pork is sold at three different farmers markets in Central Texas. Their products are corn, soy, antibiotic, and hormone free. Zanzenberg Farm practices holistic management principles such as intensive planned grazing as well as innovating new management strategies that optimize soil health.

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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.

Mark your calendars for NCAT’s second Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15 and 16, 2022. This will be a virtual conference offering plenty of networking opportunities with presenters and fellow attendees.

Join us to hear from presenters such as David Montgomery of the University of Washington and Dig2Grow, Alejandro Carillo of UnderstandingAg, and agroforestry expert Dr. Hannah Hemmelgarn.

Watch our conference website, SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG, for a complete agenda and registration information.

We look forward to seeing you in March for this important event.

TerraPurezza was founded by Tina and Orion Weldon in Spicewood, TX in 2015. It has grown to over 1500 acres of native Texas prairie on multiple campuses including the Shield Ranch on Austin’s Barton Creek and Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch in Spicewood, TX. With backgrounds in nutrition, agriculture, and conservation ecology, the TerraPurezza power couple applies multiple approaches to rejuvenate the land for a more resilient food system. 

TerraPurezza partnered with the Shield Ranch in 2019. Stewarding and protecting the Hill Country ecosystem is the sole purpose of the Shield Ranch. The TerraPurezza-Shield Ranch partnership focuses on producing nutrient-dense food while managing the ranch’s natural resources through rehabilitating soil health, rebuilding native grasslands, and restoring natural water cycles. TerraPurezza manages 65-acres of the 6,800-acre Shield Ranch with adaptive high-density multi-species livestock grazing, which includes pigs, sheep, and poultry.

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The Stowers Ranch was established in 1904 by prominent Texas merchant and rancher George Arthur Stowers. The 11,800 acre operation is located at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River near Hunt, Texas. It is enhanced by over two miles of riverfront and a large beautiful natural lake. Today the Smith family, direct descendants of George Stowers, own and operate the ranch for livestock, hunting, and recreation.

The Smiths chose a small area of the ranch to try something new without major risk. Two transects have been established in a small 30 acre pasture at the Stowers Ranch. This pasture was divided further with temporary electric fencing to create one 18 acre and one 13 acre paddock. 250 head were allowed to graze in each paddock for eight and 12 hours. Grazing this size of a heard in these relatively small paddocks is a demonstration of high stock density for a short duration of time. One pasture will be rested for six months and the other will be rested for one year.

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Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins’ journey to becoming ranchers began in an unusual way. They first developed the nationally marketed EPIC Bar, a jerky based protein bar; then sold their company and followed an inspiration to begin livestock production as a way to improve the environment. Located in the heart of the majestic Hill Country, ROAM Ranch sits on 900 acres of awe inspiring river bottom land on the outskirts of Fredericksburg, TX. Katie and Taylor shared a vision to positively impact large-scale agriculture through producing nourishing food that improves the lives of animals, enriches the health of consumers, and regenerates the land on which we depend. Like much of the world, this once-fertile region has been industrially farmed for the past 100 years. 

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Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, in Comal County, Pure Pastures is a 2,000-acre multi-species operation that practices 100% regenerative management. Pure Pastures is a collaboration between the Moorman family, the ranch owners and partners in the business, and the Eubank family, the operations managers and business partners.

Lew Moorman was introduced to regenerative agriculture after experiencing health concerns in his family. He realized that the food system needed changing, from the soil up, to improve people’s health. In 2018 Lew set out on a mission to regenerate the food system beginning with improving soil health on his ranch near Canyon Lake, TX. He partnered with Maggie and Jeremiah to develop their business Pure Pastures.

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The National Center for Appropriate Technology has released a series of 19 videos from its inaugural Soil Health Innovations Conference. The presentations feature nationally recognized experts and innovative farmers from around the U.S. who share the latest in soil science, best practices in soil management, and the emerging technologies that will drive the future of sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

“The Soil Health Innovations Conference occupies the cutting edge of soil health across the country – on-farm practices, soil biology, carbon markets, and public policy,” said Steve Thompson, NCAT executive director. “This set of videos adds to NCAT’s trusted knowledgebase and provides a free resource to any producer or land manager working to improve soil conditions.”

The keynote presentation by Dr. Fred Provenza, one of the country’s leading ecologists, is a highlight of the conference videos. He discusses the link between the health of soils and plants with the health of livestock and the people who eat these foods.

Dr. Robin “Buz” Kloot, a soil health research professor in the Environmental Health Sciences Department at University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, spoke about helping farmers find their way forward using new soil testing techniques.

Other acclaimed speakers featured in these conference videos are Rick Clark of Farm Green, Dorn Cox of OpenTEAM, Dan Kittredge of Bionutrient Food Association, Aria McLauchlan of Land Core, Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune of American Farmland Trust, and Arohi Sharma of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Presentations from innovative farmers and ranchers included rice, corn, soybean and cotton farmer Adam Chappell from Arkansas, organic walnut grower Russ Lester from California, and beef producer Cooper Hibbard from Montana.

An audience favorite at the conference was the Indigenous and Traditional Soil Health Practices presentation featuring speakers Mila Berhane, Greenland Nursery; Kelsey Ducheneaux-Scott, Intertribal Agriculture Council; Earcine Evans, Francis Flowers and Herbs Farm, and Twila Cassadore, Traditional Western Apache Diet Project.

These videos are free and available on YouTube, ATTRA.NCAT.ORG and SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG.

As emerging technologies and innovative practices have made clear, healthy soil will play a foundational role in the future of sustainable, climate-smart agriculture. These innovations come at a time when there is a growing commitment among producers, food companies, policy makers, and consumers to improve the resilience of healthy food systems at their very roots. NCAT’s conference was a unique opportunity for these groups to come together for important conversation.