Welcome to the Soil Sense Podcast

We believe that building healthier soils is not just a prescription, but rather a pursuit. This journey requires collaboration, curiosity, and communication among farmers, agricultural researchers, agronomists, consultants, and extension. You’re going to hear their stories and discover how and why they’re working together to make sense out of what’s happening in the soil.

– Tim Hammerich, Future of Agriculture Podcast Host

Season 1

Episode 1: Setting the Stage

Dr. Abbey Wick, NDSU Soil Health Specialist (Photo credit: Larry Biri)

Dr. Abbey Wick is an Extension Soil Health Specialist at North Dakota State University. She joins us to share what her role is in promoting soil health in North Dakota. Dr. Wick works primarily with farmers but also coordinates county extension agents and other educators to share what new research indicates with regards to enriching the health of the soil. She encourages networking between all factions of agriculture to best help the farmer in their pursuit of a high quality yield. Her Cafe Talks have become a welcomed forum for farmers to receive, engage with and implement new practices that work best for their individual needs.

“Every year is different…that makes it a lifelong pursuit, makes it an awareness that you have to have of your system.” – Dr. Abbey Wick

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • How North Dakota coordinates efforts to disseminate information
  • What soil health means to her as a soil scientist
  • What are the obstacles she must overcome to get new ideas and research accepted
  • Why Soil Health does not lend itself to a “one size fits all” prescription service
  • What happens when she doesn’t know the answer to a farmer’s questions.
  • What is a SHARE Farm

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 2: Soil Health on the Farm

Tony Wagner, Jamestown Farmer

Ride along with fourth generation farmer Tony Wagner in Jamestown, North Dakota. Farming has been a lifelong passion for Tony. He took on his first field in the eighth grade and after pursuing college returned to the area to help manage his family’s operation. He has experimented with different cover crops for different fields in order to better the soil he has access to. He joins us today to share his excitement for implementing new techniques and the drastic effect it has had on the quality of his soil.

 “You have one shot a year to do this and then you have to wait the whole entire year for it to come around. And that’s kind of what honestly really keeps me interested in it…..There’s just so many things to do from preparation for equipment in the winter time to all of a sudden you’re planting and then from planting you’re going on to spraying and then from spraying it starts leading into harvest and next thing you know, the leaves are falling off the tree….. I like working with fields and soil and just anything that I could do to improve our farm.” – Tony Wagner

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Hear about the heritage associated with the Wagner Farm
  • Learn about the new techniques Tony has implemented
  • The effects rotating cover crops have had on the quality of the soil
  • The collaboration of farmers and extension agents to learn and improve

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 3: Dial in Fertility

Dr. Dave Franzen, NDSU Soil Specialist (Photo credit: Larry Biri)

Join us for the first installment of a two-part interview with Dr. Dave Franzen, a Soil Scientist at North Dakota State University in Extension, and Anthony Thilmony, a fourth generation farmer in the Valley City, North Dakota area. These two have collaborated for many years through discussion and trials. Today we explore soil fertility and the effect of a no-till strategy. We learn about some of the benefits including a decreased nitrogen need and increased microorganism activity to name two.

 “In order to get somebody to change the way they’re doing things you either have to have an economic tag or an emotional tag.” -Dr. Dave Franzen

 “My goal is when I quit farming everything is going to be in better shape than I got it and that’s what drives me with the no-till.” – Anthony Thilmony

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Discover how Dr Franzen and Anthony began to collaborate
  • Learn about soil loss in North Dakota over the last 100 years
  • Hear about the benefits of performing research on commercial farms
  • What the advantages are of having a no-till field
  • Who the “Beach Boys’ of North Dakota are and what they have accomplished

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 4: Precision of Soil Health

Anthony Thilmony, Valley City Farmer

Welcome to the second installment of a two part interview with Dr. Dave Franzen, a soil scientist at North Dakota State University, and Anthony Thilmony, a fourth generation farmer in the Valley City, North Dakota area. In this segment we will be focusing on the precision of soil health. We explore how to identify your individual soil needs and how to effectively and efficiently meet those demands.

 “The Zone Sampling Concept is the number one site specific nutrient management strategy in the state. I wish more people would do it .” -Dr. Dave Franzen

 “I had a goal. I didn’t go from here to there. I went five steps in between.” – Anthony Thilmony

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Learn about the development of zone sampling
  • Discover the benefits and philosophy behind variable rate fertilization application
  • Converting to various precision ag techniques requires a financial and time commitment
  • What factors influence the decision to try a new technique or add new technology

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 5: Challenges of Building Soil Health in Cool and Wet Climates

Sam Landman, Logan Center Farmer

Sam Landman is a fifth generation farmer who manages not only his family farm but also a SHARE (Soil Health and Agriculture Research Extension) Farm. He discusses how his techniques have evolved and how that has impacted his crop rotations and equipment choices. Challenging effective practices for better sustainability and soil health is an uphill battle but Sam is already seeing the benefits.

“I think the long-term benefits will be there for sure. But you know we’re always up against short-term economics anytime you’re transitioning to a new practice.” Sam is perpetually researching and networking to gain as much knowledge as possible. He wants to make the most informed decisions he can. If someone is interested in trying some of these new practices, Sam recommends reaching out and asking questions. Dr. Abbey Wick and the rest of the extension have been great resources for him. He also suggests experimenting with some smaller fields first to find the best fit for your operation.

“I like seeing green out there. I like seeing living biology out there. When you start digging around in the ground, you start seeing the soil come alive because of the living root out there. It’s just kind of an addiction. Once you start it and you start seeing the benefits you want to keep trying it and do more and more.” -Sam Landman

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Sam Landman and hear his story farming in North Dakota
  • Discuss transitioning to reduced tillage practices
  • Explore new soil handling techniques and the effect that has had on Sam’s farm
  • Learn about the challenges faced by those changing farming protocols

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 6: Lessons from 20 Years of Crop Consulting

Dr. Lee Briese, Crop Consultant

Dr. Lee Briese is a Crop Consultant with Centrol Crop Consulting. He does not sell any products but rather solely focuses on helping farmers make the best decisions for their crops and soils. Dr. Briese checks every field weekly which creates a comprehensive understanding of the individual farmer’s goals, their assets and their obstacles to reaching those goals.  He estimates he has covered over a million acres with his crop consulting resulting in a wealth of knowledge and experience. “There’s no one (size) fits all for anybody,” says Dr. Briese. We learn how many factors play into the recommendations he makes and the timing of the alternative techniques he suggests.  

“There has to be a distinct level of trust between (the farmers) and I as far as the information I’m giving them, that not only applies to them but is solid information.” Dr. Lee Briese.

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Introduction to Dr Lee Briese, a crop consultant with Centrol Crop Consulting
  • Dr Briese discusses his approach to introducing new techniques
  • Learn how information is shared between farms
  • Discover why farmers in North Dakota use a lower rate of herbicide application and what the consequences are in regards to herbicide resistance

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 7: Taking Off with Soil Health

Matt Nelson, Lakota Farmer

Matt Nelson joins Soil Sense today to share his experiences from his farm in Lakota, North Dakota where they produce small grains, wheat, barley, canola, soybeans, corn and edible beans. While Matt grew up on the farm, he spent the first 15-16 years of his career as a commercial pilot which has influenced his approach to farming.

Matt shares the challenges and benefits that come with adopting reduced tillage practices. Another obstacle Matt faces are saline soils that have become more apparent with frequent rainfall. Matt shares his approach to implementing new techniques and what factors create the most viable options for his operation.  

“Ask your neighbors. Ask your friends. Ask the guys how have been farming for a long time. What’s worked for you? What do you see? Are there certain times or certain practices you see that work better or have a negative effect on what you’re doing?” Matt Nelson

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Matt Nelson
  • Learn what drew him away from his job as an airline pilot towards being a full-time farmer
  • Discover what are the biggest changes Matt has made to his farming operation
  • Explore the effects of a multi-year wet period and what adjustments needed to be made

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 8: Cover Crops

Dr. Marisol Berti, NDSU cover crop researcher

Dr. Marisol Berti spearheads research in the use of cover crops as a professor in the Plant Sciences Department at North Dakota State University. Her most recent projects are focused on cover crops and their uses with crops outside of the more traditional corn and soybean rotations. Among her many successes in this field, her team has also developed a specific planter to better plant a cover crop and beat the oncoming winter. Dr. Berti shares that the hallmark of using cover crops is the benefit of “protecting the soil.” She admits there is a risk with cover crops as there is with any crop when the weather does not support the seed’s growth. The difference with cover crops is that they are not insured, which leads to a total economic loss if the crop is not successful.

Dr. Berti discusses the use of Camelina as a broad leaf cover crop and the benefits to its use. As of yet it has not been broadly used but shows great potential. The biggest obstacle she faces is not in its use but in its marketability to create another source of income for the farmer. There is currently a lot of interest in it as a source for Omega-3 Fatty Acids for human consumption but no clear market currently in the United States.  If a market develops the use of Camelina will not only be beneficial to soil health but also create additional income for the farmer which would help offset its risk.

If you go in a Corn-Soybean rotation with no cover crops the soil is almost like a parking lot. There is nothing. There is no life. You can dig and dig and there’s not one worm. I go to a farm that has had cover crops for 10 years and he puts his shovel no matter where and he gets a bunch of worms.” Dr. Marisol Berti

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Explore the practice of adding cover crops
  • Meet Dr. Berti, a cover crop expert and Professor at North Dakota State University
  • Discover the use, benefit and obstacles in using Camelina as a cover crop

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 9: Improving Soil Health Over Generations

Lee Trautman, Jamestown farmer

Lee Trautman joins us today. Lee farms corn, soybean and small grains in Jamestown, North Dakota with his brother and father. Trautman Farms has been no till for over 20 years giving Lee a unique farming experience of very limited tillage.

A wet year with prevented planting situations introduced the idea of cover crops to Trautman Farms. The cover crops they initially chose were based on what seed they had available. Now Lee employs rye and has found that it “fits the bill” for their operation and assists with weed suppression and water consumption. Lee discusses the significant impact his practices have had on his farm and the conversations it has inspired with his neighbors and landlords.

“That’s what really gets you is when you get somebody who’s not around every day or  that sees it every day or maybe has never seen a no-till field. And  they come out and they just can’t stop saying good things about your soils. That really means a lot to me.” -Lee Trautman

“Sometimes you can just go out in a field and and stick a shovel in the ground and just be like, yes, this is a good piece of ground. And I can do that in all of my fields. I can stick a shovel in the ground and there’s always worms. There’s good aggregation. There’s structure. There’s lots of organic matter. It’s just a beautiful piece of ground most of the time. And just knowing that we’ve helped create that and kind of keep it established that way so…..hopefully the next generation can enjoy it and keep improving it.” -Lee Trautman

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Lee Trautman, a farmer in Jamestown, North Dakota
  • Hear how Trautman Farms manage their farm with three family members running different parts of the operation
  • Explore what program introduced Trautman Farms to cover crops
  • Learn how Lee manages the use of rye and is able to replenish his seed every year
  • Discover what healthy soils means to Lee and how he can demonstrate their vitality on his farm

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 10: Salinity & Sodicity Issues

Naeem Kalwar, extension Soil Health Specialist (Photo credit: Larry Biri)

Naeem Kalwar is an extension Soil Health Specialist in the Langdon Research Extension Center. His expertise is shared today in facing sodicity and salinity issues in your soils.

The term salinity refers to the potential for high salt levels in the soil which can decrease water absorption at the root-level resulting in drought stressed crops. Fortunately salinity does not affect soil structure allowing for the smooth movement of water and air through the soil despite the increased salt content. Good drainage and improved soil water infiltration can help manage salinity concerns.

Sodicity, on the other hand, creates an issue that is not as easy to correct. With sodicity, a bond between the sodium molecules and the clay is formed. This directly affects the ability of the water to move through the soil as it will settle in dense layers. With an increase in sodicity you will also have a higher retention of salt resulting in increased salinity.  Amendments like gypsum are required to increase the aggregation and good structure of the soil in order to compensate for the structural changes caused by sodicity.

“Our groundwater has very high salt levels, plus sodium. And this sodium i’m talking about is not presented as salt. This sodium gets attracted to the negative charges of clay and humus soil particles, and causes sodicity or the breakdown of soil aggregates…so we have two different problems: salt and sodicity.” – Naeem Kalwar

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Naeem Kalwar an extension Soil Health Specialist
  • Explore the differences between soils in different regions
  • Learn about the significance of salinity and sodicity in a soil’s health
  • Discover how to identify and address these concerns

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 11: Building Soil Health on Your Toughest Field

Doug Toussaint, Wahpeton Farmer

Doug Toussaint from Wahpeton, North Dakota discusses his shift toward soil health building practices. Doug shares what inspired him to make these changes and the decision to start with his most difficult field.  Doug was able to slowly integrate these new techniques including inter-seeding and reduced tillage by using equipment that he already had on hand.  He has noticed a significant difference in his fields with “how different they worked (and) how much easier they were to plant.”

Doug shares that going to seminars, talking to other farmers and reaching out to consultants and the extension have all helped him find the answers and learn about new practices. He emphasizes the importance of networking with neighboring farmers and helping to foster the discussion about reduced tillage and cover crops.

“Cover crops is not where to quit spending money….I’d rather have a cover crop that failed than a cover crop that I didn’t do.” -Doug Toussaint

 “There isn’t a recipe here. You’re going to put your own recipe together and how its going to work. You just have to be open-minded and look at different things and be willing to change immediately.” – Doug Toussaint

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Hear from Doug Toussaint a Farmer in North Dakota
  • Learn what inspired him to experiment with new farming techniques
  • Meet the difficult field he started with and why he started there
  • Explore some of the benefits Doug has experienced by adding cover crops to his rotation

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 12: Soil Physics and Soil Biology

Dr. Aaron Daigh, NDSU soil physics researcher

Explore the scientific principles forming the foundation of soil health. Dr. Aaron Daigh of Iowa State University joins us to discuss the impact of movement and distribution of water, heat, and nutrients in the soil. Dr Daigh draws an analogy between pores in the soil and plumbing in a building. Through the natural processes of freezing, wetting, drying, and thawing pores are developed in the soil. These pores are crucial to nutrient and water retention. He shares the effect that tillage practices have on heat transfer and retention within the soil as well as to the pore size and distribution. Understanding these scientific principles can lead to more informed decisions on farming practices. Dr. Daigh shares the ongoing research in this field and where the focus is shifting.  

“It’s kind of like taking all the piping in your house or the building or in a chemical plant and rearranging it to the way that you want…..When you go in and you till a soil you are kind of homogenizing everything. You’re making all the pipes kind of very similar to each other at least in the depth that you’re tilling at.” – Dr. Aaron Daigh

“When you go into a no-till or reduced till system…. you have a whole bunch of small pores and those pores are what can really hold onto water longer. They can hold onto nutrients longer and keep it available in a spot that the plant can use later on.”   – Dr. Aaron Daigh

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Aaron Daigh and learn what it means to be a soil physicist
  • Explore how tillage disrupts the natural pores in the soil and affects the movement of water and nutrients
  • Daigh teaches us how the different sized pores are developed in the soil and the benefits they provide.
  • Discover the up and coming research in the area of Soil Science

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 13: Integrating Cattle and Cover Crops

Luke Ressler, Hillsboro farmer

What can integrating livestock do for soil health? Luke Ressler joins us from Hillsboro, North Dakota where he farms with his father-in-law, Randy Lemm, and his wife Elli. Luke was raised on a farm in Cooperstown and worked for the NDSU Extension and Dr. Abbey Wick after completing his studies at NDSU.  Luke was able to participate and host some of the Cafe Talks Abbey organized while working there.

Luke shares the rotational grazing pattern he is using for his cattle. The biggest obstacle for them in using this technique is providing access to fresh water every day.  The goal of this process is to gain the benefit of the cover crop for the soil and then convert that growth into nutrition for the cattle which will add manure back to the soil to further fortify it and reduce the time spent in the feedlot for the cattle. We check in with Luke to see his experiences between the original interview in June 2019 to today (October 2019). Spoiler: it’s been a tough year weather-wise.

“My goal is to always try to go to as many field days and events that NDSU puts on as possible because you’re going to learn something new every time you go and meet someone new.” – Luke Ressler

 “Research is helping out a lot of guys who don’t know where to go, who don’t have good resources available to them. They can go online and get really good information especially from NDSU. I have nothing but good to say about it and I’m really excited to be involved more.” – Luke Ressler

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Luke Ressler introduces us to incorporating cattle into your soil health practices
  • Learn the benefits to the soil and cattle when combined as part of your land management
  • Feel Luke’s excitement to be involved with upcoming research
  • Explore Luke’s process to getting answers when questions arise with his new practices

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 14: Managing Salts

Allie Slykerman, crop consultant at Centrol Ag Consulting

Today we hear from Allie Slykerman. Allie works as an independent crop consultant at Centrol Ag Consulting. One of the most significant issues faced by North Dakota farmers is salinity management. The primary crop struggles to grow in these areas resulting in opportunist weeds gaining a foothold in the field. Possible management practices include using salt tolerant plants for cover and assisting the soil in moving the water through the soil profile via tile. Depending on the location and salinity levels these options may not be available. The effort then becomes to try to limit the saline spots spread to reduce lost ground. 

Allie says one of the biggest concerns she gets approached about is weed resistance. She discusses the challenges faced by farmers and the progression of resistance she has observed. Roundup is no longer a “silver-bullet” for all things weeds. She shares different recommendations she has made in the last year to mitigate this growing threat.

“Our chemistry is still working but I think in the future we need to start considering the what if’s….We really have to start being really careful and protecting these chemistries and start to think outside the box and using all the tools in the toolbox.” – Allie Slykerman

“Figuring out how these guys tick is one of my favorite aspects of the job and getting to work with all different sorts of personalities is one of the most interesting things I think a crop consultant deals with on a day-to-day basis.” – Allie Slykerman

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Allie Slykerman shares the most significant issue she sees with her clients
  • Learn the different techniques available to battle salinity issues
  • Allie shares her concern for weed herbicide tolerance
  • Explore the relationship between a crop consultant and their client farmers

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 15: SHARE Farm Reflections & Insights

Jean Henning, Executive Director of North Dakota Corn Council
Ken Johnson, Mooreton Farmer | SHARE Farm

In this episode we explore the SHARE (Soil Health and Agriculture Research Extension) Farm Project. It is a field scale location used to display practices that the research is indicating to advance soil health. The program showcases rotations and practices that can be used in the local area to advance soil health.

The North Dakota Corn Council and other commodity groups have funded the SHARE farm to take advantage of an opportunity to further promote soil health in North Dakota. The North Dakota Corn Council’s main objectives are to provide funding for “research, education, promotion and market development of corn in North Dakota” and the SHARE farm program fits that bill. The SHARE farm has “consistently been (their) number one project.”

“The SHARE Farm Project is actually pretty unique. It’s a farmer driven project….It came about from Farmers wanting a place or field that they could drive by and see these soil health building practices at field scale for long-term within the rotations that they’re using. They wanted something that was theirs.” – Dr Abbey Wick (NDSU Extension)

“This was research that was actually being conveyed to our farmers and they were eating it up. They loved it…..It was just really great to see farmers talking to other farmers. Farmers acting as mentors to younger farmers and teaching them what they have learned over 20-30 years.” – Jean Henning (Executive Director of North Dakota Corn Council)

“I think people are pretty impressed with what they see there….I think we’ve proven that we can no-till in heavy soils. I had one farmer say “You’re going to no-till out their right? So you can prove it doesn’t work in these soils.” I said, “yeah or prove that it does.” I think we proved that much” – Ken Johnson (Farmer with the first SHARE Farm)

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Discover what a SHARE farm is and the soil health practices it puts on display
  • Hear from Ken Johnson, the first farmer to participate in the SHARE farm program
  • Learn about the North Dakota Corn Council and its purpose
  • See the change in information sharing  the SHARE farm has afforded the farmers of North Dakota

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 16: Decades of Building Soil Health [Bonus Episode]

Joe Breker, Rutland Farmer

Joe Breker has been farming for over 40 years pioneering soil health building practices in southeast North Dakota. With his skills and knowledge, Joe managed to successfully operate his farm during the dry ‘80s and wet ‘90s, as well as each decade’s poor farm economy.

Joe joins me today to describe how his conservative farming practices have improved their farm’s soil health. He shares how his father was a sustainable farmer and what he did to build on what his father started. He also describes what no-till farming is, how it helps to restore damaged soil and explains the science behind management practices and how it affects soil health for decades.

“Every situation is unique…but I thoroughly believe that everybody has an opportunity to farm in more of a conservation manner from a soil health aspect.  Everybody can do it, they just have to figure out how it works for them”  – Joe Breker, Rutland farmer

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • The farming legacy Joe is a part of and how his father ran the farm.
  • What no-till farming is and what made him utilize this method.
  • How he started his journey in soil health.
  • Maintaining commitment to soil health despite poor farming business conditions.
  • How he processes their compost and the processes involved.
  • Building soil health and how they nurse damaged soil back to health.

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Season 2

Episode 1: Soil Health Collaboration Between Ag Retail and Extension

Tim Becker, McHenry Farmer
Jason Vollmer, Agronomist

In this episode we focus on the unlikely collaboration between extension and ag retail. Tim Becker joins us as a former county extension agent and long time farmer of Eddy County along with Jason Vollmer, a farmer and local agronomist for Allied Agronomy. Both have found real interest in coming together to promote soil health.

Their partnership started as organically as could be imagined “over a cup of coffee.” A group of farmers would meet to discuss techniques and ask questions. These meetings “grew into a good relationship” resulting in an ideal collaboration. Both men acknowledge that making a sale is not the end goal so much as helping the farmer be as profitable as possible.

“We found that we can fight each other for clientele and programming….or we can work together and make a total program better.” – Tim Becker, McHenry Farmer

Tim and Jason agree that “every farmer is a great steward of the land” and recognize as well as understand that “ground is their asset, their life, their lifeblood.” This compassion and understanding has allowed for the opportunity to campaign and illustrate the benefits for soil health programs. They combine research with available products to create the best individualized plan for each client they interact with.

“Ag is always evolving and we have to have a futuristic look while being grounded in the present.” – Jason Vollmer, Agronomist

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Tim Becker and Jason Vollmer
  • Learn how their unlikely collaboration resulted in better information and learning for the farmers they helped
  • Discover how they both leaned on each other’s strengths through discussion and education
  • Listen to Tim and Jason discussing the biggest obstacles they see farmers facing in regards to soil health
  • Explore how livestock may be the next adjunct to crop farming

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Episode 2: Soil Science 101 with Dr. Jay Goos

Dr. Jay Goos

Dr. Jay Goos joins us from the department of soil science at North Dakota State University to share his approach to introducing soil science to his students and his experiences over the last four decades in the field. The overall curriculum of his course focuses on teaching the “main properties of soil” including acidity and alkalinity, concepts of wilting point, field capacity and “how the layers of the soil influences productivity.” He hopes that his students leave with an understanding of the soil health big picture.

But beyond introducing and sharing the value of soil science with future generations and assisting agriculture with iron deficiencies in soybeans, Dr. Goos has also been a part of soil science for forty years. He has seen many trends, practices and concerns come and go and overall is happy to see all of the progress that has been made in regards to soil health.  He does want to call attention to phosphorus availability in the future due to limited sources and the chronic “mining (of) our soils for nutrients” without replacing the overall gross deficit.

“Everyone is thinking about nitrogen now because of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and nitrates in rivers and streams. But Phosphorus is going to be moving up on the people’s radar over the next few decades.” – Dr. Jay Goos

He comments that unfortunately something that has not changed in the last 40 years is that “farmers are still bombarded with snake oil products.” Dr. Goos encourages students and farmers to understand soil variability and learn about the many factors that influence overall soil health. He recommends reaching beyond “gizmos” when learning about precision agriculture and focus more on what causes field variation and how we can best manage it.

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Jay Goos
  • Hear about the introduction to soil science course he teaches at NDSU
  • Discover his impact on iron deficiency chlorosis in soybeans
  • Learn from the experiences he has had over the last 40 years in soil science and the issues he sees on the horizon

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Episode 3: Worms, Water, and Soil Heath Research in Action

Nate Derby
Rod Utter

Today we focus on how agricultural research experiments actually happens in practice.

Nate Derby and Rod Utter are both Research Specialists with North Dakota State University. Nate shares his experience with researching soil physics and the movement of water through the field. Rod Utter discusses his expertise from years of researching the life cycle and origin of earthworms.

Both guests have done work with the SHARE (Soil Health and Agriculture Research Extension) Farm. While they mostly work on different projects, they bring a unique insight as those that are working with field scale ag research.

While earthworms may not be considered an obvious top factor in farming production values, they provide far more benefit than composting and fish bait to the general public. Different species have adapted to different environments and different food sources making some more beneficial than others to farming especially in North Dakota.

“The earthworms themselves do a nice job. They create a lot of pore space for other organisms to go through, they turnover organic matter in the soil and on the surface they make nitrogen and phosphorus more available.” – Rod Utter

Vast amounts of soil samples and water samples are collected to further evaluate the soil on the SHARE farm and how it is affected by different practices. While the main focus of Nate’s research has been on no-till practices, he has also been able to monitor salinity and the effects of adding tile drainage to limit the reach of the water table.

“It just takes time. I think the longer you can monitor something like that, you’re going to continue to see changes.” – Nate Derby

Nate and Rod are able to use each other’s findings to create a more comprehensive assessment of the soil health and the effects different practices have on it. They have verified that different salinity levels directly affect the worm populations and how quickly they can infiltrate a field and provide their benefit.

“Related to worms on the SHARE Farm….they are moving in somewhat from the edges and that correlates pretty well with what we’ve been seeing with the salts on the surface.” -Nate Derby

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Nate Derby and Rod Utter, two scientists working on the SHARE Farm
  • Learn the origin and benefits of earthworm populations in North Dakota
  • See how different experiments are overlapping and creating a more cohesive understanding of soil health
  • Explore the benefits of field-sized research and its more practical application as opposed to plot-sized

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

Listen Now!

Related Links

Episode 4: Farmers Supporting Each Other to Build Healthier Soils

Tyler Zimmerman, Leonard Farmer
Chris Walberg, Leonard Farmer and Rancher

Tyler Zimmerman and Chris Walberg share their journey towards soil health building practices on their farms. Tyler began learning about no-till practices and their benefits about 5 years ago. Over that time he has found support and many resources as he continues learning and executing soil health practices.

“When you turn the soil up, there’s roots and worms and biology just going on in there that when you walk to the field next to you that has been conventionally tilled and you don’t find any of that….its night and day difference just across the road from one field to the next.” – Tyler Zimmerman 

Tyler shared his findings and experiences with his childhood friend, neighbor, and fellow farmer, Chris Walberg. Chris began to slowly “dabble” in no-till after seeing Tyler’s success and quickly found success of his own.

 “You have a success that you can keep building on. I guess that was kind of a bit of an eye opener for us, that no-till can work.” Chris Walberg

Tyler found that one of the big challenges to no-till is that it requires a higher “patience level.” You need to be able to wait for the soil to be “the right temperature and dry” where as a  neighbor practicing tillage might not need to do the same.

In order to further expand on their no-till practices Chris and Tyler collaborated to buy an air drill together. Both men have observed the soil health movement gain a lot of “momentum in the last few years” and are excited about what the future holds.  While not everyone is radically changing their practices to build healthier soils, “they are certainly hearing about it and reading about it.”

Between sharing information, equipment and ideas, Tyler and Chris are looking forward to continuing the expansion of their soil health building efforts. This collaboration and comradery  has “made farming fun” for both and will likely continue to do so.

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet farmers Tyler Zimmerman and Chris Walberg
  • See how they were both introduced to no-till practices and the benefits they have observed
  • Learn about their collaborative efforts and the benefits that has provided them
  • Explore where their future efforts will lead them

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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Episode 5: Measuring the Impact of Sharing Information about Soil Health

Jean Haley, Haley Consulting Services LLC
Dr. Abbey Wick, NDSU Soil Health Specialist (Photo credit: Larry Biri)

Today we explore the impact of sharing information. Are shared ideas spread the way we think? Jean Haley, Haley Consulting Services LLC, is responsible for answering that question for soil health at North Dakota State. She is joined by soil health Extension specialist Dr. Abbey Wick to discuss the plans and impact of providing information on soil health. While profit driven businesses can measure income as a metric for success, projects with education goals require a different approach for evaluation. “What does success mean?” That is where Jean comes in.

“I help programs get better at what they’re doing and provide data to their funders. That lets funders know what their return on investment is.” – Jean Haley, Haley Consulting Services LLC

Program evaluation is prominent in education and health and human services. Jean has expanded it into soil health. Her data shows what projects and education sharing efforts have been effective and how so. Jean creates “needs assessments” which allows for identification of end game goals for the evaluation. She then reaches for whatever tools would best achieve that end whether that be a survey, observation of conversations and interactions at events, or creating focus groups.

According to Jean, with the advent of “Cafe Talks,” Dr. Wick created a boundary organization. This allowed for “a conversation in real time” that she was then able to moderate and grow. By identifying the strength of this event, Dr. Wick was then able to show the significance with data to those funding the lunches.

“Here we have something that’s going to outlast everybody and it’s going to continue feeding on itself… It’s bigger than the individual. It’s about everybody that’s part of the network. I think funding sources really like hearing that because it (doesn’t) just end with this project.” – Dr. Abbey Wick

One significant recommendation Jean has offered to the soil health movement is to offer longer breaks during workshops. As opposed to the presumed “dead time” this may allow it fostered conversation which was the ultimate goal of the workshop and therefore provided a greater benefit than perpetual lecture. “We were so focused on the talks and the presentations and the content that we totally forgot about the fact that people like to just visit….They’re coming here to meet other farmers. They’re coming here to get ideas and to get inspired and it’s like we just extinguished all of that with content.” Dr. Wick credits Jean with shifting the focus from disseminating as much information as possible to providing quality programming to create the desired networking effect.

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Jean Haley and learn about her role in evaluation of NDSU’s Soil Health Program
  • Discover what program evaluation is and the tools they employ
  • Hear about the impact Jean has had on the program from Dr. Abbey Wick
  • Explore the benefits this provides to the program and by extension those that fund it

Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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