By Isaac Kreider
The Holyoke Enterprise
More than 280 individuals gathered at the Phillips County Event Center for the fourth annual Farming Evolution workshops, Feb. 12-13, presented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The yearly event maintains a strong focus on soil health and management techniques.
Farmers, ranchers, producers and more ventured to Holyoke for the two-day event. Area citizens were joined by attendees who traveled from North Dakota, Nevada, Texas and even Alberta, Canada, among other surrounding states.
Over the course of the workshop, topics dealt with maintaining healthy soil, no-till farming start-ups, livestock and cropland integration and more.
“Many facets contribute to and promote soil health,” said Joe Crowder, soil conservationist for Holyoke’s NRCS field office. “We have an important long-term goal of reducing herbicides and pesticides, which will ultimately reduce producers’ costs.”
Holyoke NRCS soil conservation technician Tim Becker expressed his pleasure with the event’s turnout, noting that in the workshop’s fourth year it continues to get bigger and better, thus the need to change to a two-day program when it has always been just one day in the past. This year’s workshop drew a much larger crowd than previous years, after a high of approximately 160 people last year.
Becker noted that soil health covers a wide range of topics which were addressed at the Farming Evolution program including rotational grazing, cover crops, no-till farming, etc., and there was just too much information for one day.
“With two world-renowned speakers like we were able to bring in this year, we needed to make it a longer event,” Becker said. “The promotion of soil health is of big importance in this region of the country.
Those two highly sought-after speakers were conservation agronomist Ray Archuleta from the NRCS East National Technology Center in Greensboro, N.C., and Gabe Brown, owner of Brown’s Ranch in Bismarck, N.D.
Archuleta presented both days, sharing powerpoint slideshows discussing soil biology, soil health, adaptive management, soil infiltration rates and their effects, and the importance of proper grazing techniques.
“Carbon development and nutrient cycling are very important for producing healthy soil,” Archuleta stated.
To achieve healthy soil results, Archuleta described how one of the methods they are promoting is creating pasture subdivisions with high stock density for short durations.
“Proper understanding and management of the whole system, from the grazing animals to the soil feeders, will promote exceptional crop growth and regrowth of grasslands, even directly after drought,” Archuleta said. “When you overgraze, you take away too much of the nutrients from the soil.”
Archuleta presented a soil aggregate and stability test demonstration, saying, “The more we can smell, touch and see the condition of our soils, the better we can integrate healthy soil practices.”
His demonstration showed the different stabilities of low-and high-stress and low-and high-disturbance soils between no-till and conventional farming practices.
Brown also presented both days and spoke extensively about his experiences and observations on his farm and range grounds.
His family has developed an extensive livestock and crop raising environment at his ranch in North Dakota, which works to naturally regenerate landscapes for a sustainable future.
According to Brown, more than 20 years ago his ranch began as land that was highly degraded by synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. Now it is a dynamic, thriving range producing a myriad of foods through healthy, sustainable practices.
“Our strategies have allowed the health of the soil and the mineral and water cycles to greatly improve,” Brown said. “We aim to show how healthy soil produces healthier food.”
Some of his other discussion points included rotation and rest cycles for rangelands, maximizing solar energy collection, use of various cover and companion crops for developing nutrient density and natural internal parasite control, importance of learning from others and additional income sources on a farm or ranch.
Brown was also adamant about the benefits of biodiversity and limiting crop productivity rather than focusing on one crop which forces farmers to rely on that particular market being good in any given year.
“Our desire is to educate and empower the next generation of leaders in sustainable farming,” Brown said. “Opportunities are only limited by one’s imagination.”
This was the second year vendors were included in the Farming Evolution program. Various conservation societies and crop production and agricultural service companies were on site to share information and resources.
This year’s program was also televised on The Barn, Colorado’s ag news network.