Soil Sense Season 2 Episodes

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.

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Episode 2: Soil Science 101 with Dr. Jay Goos

Dr. Jay Goos, NDSU Soil Science Researcher

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.

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

Nate Derby, NDSU Research Technician
Rod Utter, NDSU Research Technician

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.

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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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Episode 6: The Value of Livestock to Soil Health

Dr. Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Rangeland Management Specialist, Director Central Grasslands REC

Today we answer a popular question about soil health:. How does the farmer integrate cover crops and livestock? Dr. Kevin Sedivec joins us today to shed some light on this topic and show what can be done. Kevin is the Extension Rangeland Management Specialist with North Dakota State University and the Director of the Central Grasslands Research and Extension Center near Streeter, North Dakota. By trade Kevin is a range ecologist who focuses on “livestock production, wildlife management and reclamation.” He remarks that the “fundamental basis of all of our grasslands is still soils” which has led him to be more involved in the soil health movement.

“The cover crop mixes we see today are very similar to the wildlife food plot mixes that are available to the public to buy.” – Dr. Kevin Sedivec

While ranchers are of course most concerned about the nutrition for their cattle, farmers may be concerned about any downsides the cattle might cause on their fields. One major concern faced by farmers is in regard to compaction. Kevin tells us that fortunately in the north, the expansion of water particles with freezing will reduce any significant compaction and maintain a healthy soil consistency as long as cattle are removed before the freeze/thaw cycle occurs over winter. Another common concern for farmers is contamination of local water sources by runoff originating from the cattle. Fortunately there are established systems that can be used to keep this to a minimum and create some distance between the cattle and fresh water sources.  

“There’s a positive value for livestock in this industry, in our environment and of course in our food systems. And I think in terms of soil health, it’s a great alternative.” – Dr. Kevin Sedivec

Research projects are being proposed to better identify and quantify the benefits of this collaboration as well as the best cover crop combination for the livestock and soil.

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Kevin Sedivec, a rangeland ecologist, who shares the benefits of grazing cover crops
  • Explore the biggest obstacles faced by those considering a collaboration between livestock and crop farming
  • Learn the benefits provided to the cattle, the soil and the local wildlife
  • Hear the common concerns held by farmers and ranchers alike
  • Discover what new research is being carried out to better evaluate this collaboration

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

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Episode 7: Cover Crop Seed Considerations

Steve Zwinger, agronomist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center
Jason Goltz, Regulatory Manager at North Dakota State Seed Department

Today we go back to the beginning of any soil health program – or any crop for that matter – seed. We are joined by Steve Zwinger who is an agronomist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center and Jason Goltz the Regulatory Manager for the North Dakota State Seed Department. Together we will explore and discover the value of seed selection and how seed labels need to be evaluated prior to making any purchases.

Steve shares that, unlike other crops, cover crop success is not tied to a high grain yield. The focus for cover crops is a quick rate of maturity resulting in putting on biomass and providing shade. Cover crops are used to augment control of erosion and weed growth. The quicker it can get to maturity the quicker it can perform its roll in the soil.  

“Rye has been determined to be one of the number one cover crops used by farmers across the country….So one of the things I felt strongly about was the fact that we needed some pedigree or known variety, identity preserved seed out there.” – Steve Zwinger 

Steve is an advocate for certified or registered seed. Added regulation provides a standard of “higher quality seed such as germination, seedling vigor, and purity in terms of weed seeds and other things.” Having an identified variety will lead to better variety selection for example farmers in the north need to prioritize winter survivability in making their selection. Any number of goals could be focused on by the farmer to tailor the effect of the cover crop to the field it is planted in.

Steve’s seed breeding work revolves around blending where varieties are blended together. He takes advantage of rye’s ability to be “constantly changing itself and adapting itself to the environment.” While Steve focuses on creating and certifying the variety seed purchased, Jason shares the requirements and regulations in seed..

If it’s going to be planted, it’s a seed in state and federal law. Both say that all seed has to be labeled. – Jason Goltz

Just because a crop is not harvested as in the case of the cover crops, does not mean it does not need to be clearly labeled. These labels should identify the type of seed, the quality of the seed and the amount and type of weeds potentially present. Also of great importance, seed has to be labeled for the state it is sold in to comply with local state laws. The significance of this is to avoid transmission of a prohibited noxious weed that may not be illegal in a different state. Visit to find answers to all of your questions regarding seed regulation.

“Variety evaluation and development is a very important aspect in agriculture because it’s probably the easiest decision a farmer can make before he enters the field that will have the largest impact on their production.” – Steve Zwinger

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Steve Zwinger and Jason Goltz as they describe the legality and importance of seed variety selection
  • Explore the techniques used in seed selection
  • Hear what items on the label are of the greatest significance to your operation
  • Discover why rye is a favorite cover crop to use across the country
  • Learn what you need to know before traveling out of state to purchase or sell seed

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

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Episode 8: Strip-Till and Cover Crops

Matt Olson, Crop Consultant
Mark Olson, Enderlin, ND Farmer

Today we are joined by Mark Olson, a farmer in Southeast North Dakota, and Matt Olson, an agronomist with 20 years of experience with Centrol Ag Consulting. The two bring interesting insights into their 20-year long relationship they have cultivated between farmer and agronomist. Their relationship started over questions about soil fertility and soil testing.

“I learn a lot from my growers because a lot of my growers are very innovative and want to try new things.” – Matt Olson

Matt admits that when Mark first discussed the introduction of cover crops he thought it might be “short-lived Hocus Pocus.” After 7-10 years of using cover crops he now happily admits he has been impressed with their effect and the dramatic increase in yields. Between cover crops and strip tilling Mark and Matt are exploring new techniques on many fronts. Mark refers to it as a “mindset” change that requires commitment. 

“I think we’ve got to keep learning and experimenting. I think that is the next key to getting more biology stimulated. We’re constantly learning.” – Mark Olson

So how do they know their changes are leading towards success? In a word: yield. Their yields are increasing every year and placing Mark as one of the top of producers in his area. Mark’s operation has also realized a decrease in herbicide needs with the use of cover crops. Mark shares that “it’s not where you farm. You’ve just got to have an open mind.” For those interested in changing their protocols, Mark recommends starting with “small projects.” He also suggests talking to neighbors, asking lots of questions and of course always being open to learning something new.

“Yields are increasing, getting better soil health, protecting the land. It’s going very well.” – Matt Olson

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Mark Olson and Matt Olson, a farmer and agronomist that have worked together to increase yields on Mark’s farm with some new techniques
  • Explore the dynamics of their relationship that has grown over many years
  • Learn what cover crops and strip tilling has provided Mark’s farm and why he actively promotes its use

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

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Episode 9: Intercropping and Soil Health

Lana Shaw, Southeast Research Farm Manager, Saskatchewan
Dr. Mike Ostlie, NDSU Agronomist

Could intercropping be a viable option for large-scale row crop producers? Lana Shaw, Research Manager at the Southeast Research Farm in Saskatchewan, and Dr. Mike Ostlie, a Research Agronomist at NDSU, join us today to tell us what we need to know about intercropping. Lana shares that at the most basic level “intercropping would be intentionally growing more than one species at a time in an agricultural situation.” 

“The main type of intercropping that I’ve been concentrating on is growing two grain crops simultaneously, and then separating the grain after it’s harvested. So planting them together and harvesting them together.” -Lana Shaw

This method is especially helpful in areas with a short growing season. Another benefit is the possibility of a synergistic relationship which may lead to higher yields, reduced disease and reduced insect damage. Lana further explains that “a lot of our pests are very nicely adapted to monoculture production systems.” So by growing more than one type of crop simultaneously it changes the environment to one they may not be as well suited for.  

“The whole goal is to be able to yield more per acre total product than you would with either crop alone.” -Dr. Mike Ostlie 

Logistically speaking, “sometimes there’s some compromises that you make on seeding depth or seeding dates” but this does not prohibit success. Lana highlights that regardless of what combination of crops you choose to employ you need to make sure the grains are easily separated so you don’t end up with a product you can’t market. Another consideration is adequately controlling your volunteer crops to avoid more than the planned number of crops in your end-product.  

“It’s not that Mike and I are that good at selling a strange idea. The reason this is popular and the reason why we keep getting asked to talk about this is because the farmers seem to be achieving greater overall profitability.” -Lana Shaw

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Lana Shaw and Dr. Mike Ostlie as they explain intercropping and its many applications
  • Explore the anecdotal and compelling evidence of the benefits of intercropping from inputs to yields
  • Learn the unique obstacles that must be overcome

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

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Episode 10: Soil Health from Crops to Cattle

Mike Schaefer, New Rockford Farmer

“I hope that we can just do so much more with an acre of land than just grow a crop on it.” -Mike Schaefer 

Mike Schaefer farms wheat, barley, corn and soybeans in New Rockford, North Dakota. His farm has been using soil friendly protocols for years and is now adding intermittent livestock grazing to his farm ground. Mike didn’t set out to follow the soil health movement. 10 years ago he had initially reduced his tillage out of a “shortage of manpower.” In 2016 a severe episode of wind erosion brought soil health and tillage efforts to the forefront. This “eye-opener” cemented his commitment to reducing tillage on his fields to hopefully prevent that from happening in the future. But a reduction in wind erosion has not been the only benefit to these new practices.

“What I didn’t realize is how the water infiltration was actually really bad on our farm prior to no-till and just in three short years, that’s changed dramatically….we’ve really opened up the soil profile. We’ve got aggregate, we’ve got worms. Everything is coming alive and it’s faster than I thought it would.” – Mike Schaefer

Two years ago, factors outside of Mike’s control once again presented Mike with an opportunity to try another technique on his farm, adding grazing livestock. His neighbor happened to be “short on pasture that year” and he allowed him to graze them on corn stocks that had been coverplanted.

“That seems to be the big X factor in soil health that everybody talks about is if you can get livestock out there, that is a huge benefit.” -Mike Schaefer

The first year they had 120 steers on 120 acres. Mike plans on putting 150 head on the same 120 acres next year. He does admit that in the last 30 days “something out there changed” resulting in a reduced weight gain of the cattle. His presumption is that the “quality of what they were eating had dropped.” Next year they plan on top dressing the paddocks as the livestock are rotated around and supplementing their feed as needed. Mike is openly in a learning process to find the most effective way to run livestock on his fields and he is excited about next year’s potential. This new technique is an attempt to “really change the biology of the soil” so as a bonus it also provides and supports another product, beef.

“We see a lot of opportunity to make it even more profitable once the system gets tweaked a bit. I think it could be as good or better than growing a crop on it as far as cash flow and then you get all the benefits of it underground.” – Mike Schaefer

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Mike Schaefer
  • Learn about Mike’s introduction into soil health practicesand how he has gradually made changes on his operation
  • Explore the many benefits Mike has realized by increasing his no-till efforts and by introducing intermittent grazing livestock to his fields.

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

Listen Now!

Episode 11: Soil Health and the City

Sally Jacobson, Executive Director, Red River Zoo
Dr. Abbey Wick, NDSU Soil Health Specialist

Today we are joined by Sally Jacobson, Executive Director of the Red River Zoo, and Dr. Abbey Wick, Soil Health Extension Specialist. The unlikely collaboration between NDSU Extension and the Red River Zoo has led to an innovative outreach program telling the story of modern day agriculture. The Red River Zoo has had a longtime focus of “education through fun” with a focus on conservation and their zoo farm exhibit is no different. 

The zoo farm was due to be updated a few years ago with the focus being a “story that hasn’t been told” in modern agriculture. Enter Dr. Abbey Wick. A frequent visitor to the zoo, she saw this as an opportunity to help farmers with their “messaging to the public.” Sally welcomed her assistance to promote education and illustrate how farmers are “stewards of their land.”

“From there it was just this really great partnership on what we could bring from the NDSU extension side and through connections that I have in agriculture through our commodity groups and through other industry people. And how it could really partner up with the conservation message of the zoo.” – Dr. Abbey Wick

Precision agriculture, interactive farming equipment, drone capabilities and of course soil health are all on display for kids and adults alike to engage with and learn from. The “Agriculture Adventure Day” provides another opportunity for the public to get a hands on experience with agriculture including but not limited to a big worm bin and planting seeds. One of the highlights for Dr. Wick is allowing farmers to share their legacy with the public.

“It just seemed like a great space to help farmers, not in their fields, but help them share their message about modern agriculture and sustainability and building soils and soil health.” – Dr. Abbey Wick

This unlikely collaboration has sparked a conversation regarding outreach to the public by agriculture in the future. Sally recommends “looking at your language that you’re using and finding those common threads.” This brings the public in out of curiosity and leads to a fun, exciting and informative experience that everyone can enjoy.

“It’s not about preaching to people…..but just to encourage people to explore and learn more and love the natural world. I think it’s critically important for us all as people.” – Sally Jacobson

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Sally Jacobson, Executive Director of the Red River Zoo
  • Explore the unexpected collaboration between NDSU’s Extension and the Red River Zoo
  • Learn effective and proven tips for how to communicate and spread awareness about agriculture with the public

Visit Red River Zoo to see the Zoo Farm and share your story as part of the agriculture industry.

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

Listen Now!

Related Links

Red River Zoo's website

2017 Video

2018 Video

Episode 12: Decades of Soil Health Collaboration

Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension Walsh Co Agent (Photo credit: Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Brad Brummond joined the NDSU extension in 1982 and has been in his current position in Walsh County for 28 years. His body of work allowed him to be the first North Dakotan selected for the County Agricultural Agents Hall of Fame. Brad’s experience and knowledge are invaluable. He joins us today to share some of what he’s learned. Brad has made it his mission to not only get people involved in soil health practices but also to work together in doing so.

“This can be done. This is very doable…..It’s fun. It’s exciting. It gets me up in the morning.” – Brad Brummond

Brad’s career started in organic agriculture in the 1980’s. “Soil health was what we went after from a soil fertility standpoint in organic agriculture,” shares Brad. His own initiative that he has developed and used is called “Save the Five.” It operates under the assumption that there are at least 5 acres of unproductive farmland on most operations. Most often this is caused by sodicity or magnesium imbalances. The goal with “Save the Five” is to sample these areas, create a plan to regain the use of that land.

“You can’t tell them. You have to show them. This is why our demonstration projects were so successful because they could go out and they could see it. We could put a shovel in the ground and we can show them the soil aggregates and the worms. What healthy soil looks like.” – Brad Brummond

Brad found that one of the biggest barriers he needed to overcome was the concern for profitability with soil health practices. He was able to offer farmers interested in the program financial support in the form of money to “buy off the risk.” He wanted finances to not be the obstacle keeping farmers from proving these protocols. One thing he maintains and makes sure farmers understand before taking action is that soil health takes time to build.

“The soils got to where they are over a long period of time and we’re not going to pull them out of it in one or two years….You have to be patient and you have to understand it didn’t get here overnight and it’s not leaving overnight.” – Brad Brummond

Brad takes pride in the collaboration his team has been able to achieve.  He has cultivated a level of trust within Walsh County that brings all kinds of viewpoints and opinions together for healthy discussion.  Groups including NDSU, local producers, the Soil Conservation District and NRCS have come together to discuss different practices and possible outcomes. He encourages other counties to create the same collaborations.

“This can be done ladies and gentleman. Our’s just happened. I think you could do it in a more deliberate manner.” – Brad Drummond

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension in Walsh County
  • Learn what Walsh County has achieved with furthering the soil health discussion
  • Explore the tips and tricks to creating collaborations across many organizations
  • See the benefits of soil health practices on their operations

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

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Episode 13: Soil Health Dynamic Duo, Part One: Cover Crops


Susan Samson-Liebig, NRCS Soil Quality Specialist
Dr. Mark Liebig, USDA ARS Soil Scientist

Mark Liebig and Susan Samson-Liebig are two leading soil scientists that work in two different agencies within the USDA. Also, they just happen to be spouses. Mark works as a soil scientist within the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Susan works as a Soil Quality Specialist in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). ARS is “focused on solving problems for producers” using science based research. NRCS has a “mission to protect the soil and water and all of the natural resources on the land” with methods in compliance with the farm bill. While these two agencies have different objectives they provide support to each other.

“Where our agencies do work pretty close together is on this transfer of the research and then getting it into the hands of people to use.” -Susan Samson-Liebig

Mark has been investigating the use of cover crops for 15 years. A significant factor he has observed in his studies is the effect a timely precipitation can have on the biomass produced. Different seeding times and intercropping practices are currently under investigation to find the best protocols to offer to farmers in the area. While he is encouraged by local farmers adopting some of these practices, he admits that there are endless iterations in cover crop planting for farmers to choose from. Because of this, Mark created a chart to help farmers navigate the many options and decisions required with cover crops based on the current recommendations.

“The chart is our effort to provide a cool tool for producers in helping them to make their decisions on what cover crops they could choose or what mixtures they’d want to put together.” – Mark Liebig

The chart was inspired by the periodic table and illustrates every iteration they have developed at this time. As this chart has been shared it has been expanded. Producers outside of North Dakota have reached out and asked for versions involving their climate and crop options.

“You start there with the chart and you’ll learn a little bit more and then as you graduate then you can go to these other tools.” -Mark Liebig

As transplants from Nebraska, they acknowledge the significant impact the soil health movement has made in North Dakota. Mark comments that the reason for this is that “from the ground up, from the farmer level, there was just this inherent recognition that we have to protect these resources.” Susan agrees and adds that the people of North Dakota seem open and willing to try new practices and collaborate with researchers.

“The solutions to problems are often better if you can get more input on how things can be solved.” -Mark Liebig

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Susan Samson-Liebig and Mark Liebig, both soil scientists that contribute to the industry in two different USDA agencies
  • Mark developed a chart to help farmers better understand cover crop options and easily see the current recommendations offered by ARS
  • Susan works at the NRCS and engages producers to help them conserve their resources

Click here to see the Cover Crop Chart

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

Listen Now!

Related Links

Episode 14: Measuring Soil Quality: Soil Health Dynamic Duo, Part 2


Susan Samson-Liebig, NRCS Soil Quality Specialist
Dr. Mark Liebig, USDA ARS Soil Scientist

We are back with Mark Liebig and Susan Samson-Liebig. In case you missed our last episode, they are two leading soil scientists of the USDA.  Mark works as a soil scientist within the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Susan works as a Soil Quality Specialist in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In this episode we focus on metrics of success for soil health. First, Mark defines soil quality through the lens of research on soil management.

“I think of it often in the context of various soil functions; the ability to cycle nutrients, the ability to be a habitat for your soil biology, the ability to be able to take up water and retain it and move it through the soil matrix. It’s all based on soil function.” – Mark Liebig 

In regard to soil health, Susan adds that she focuses on the inherent properties and attributes that soil has that will “lend itself to be able to provide those functions that we need.” Both acknowledge that the terms soil health and soil quality is at times viewed as a distinction without a difference and that the semantics of the terms are not significant.

To test and characterize the quality of the soil you are limited by the amount of time and money you want to invest. You can use a shovel and observe the “qualitative attributes” including tactile feel, the color, and the smell. You can also invest in a hydraulic sampler and send off samples for physical, chemical and biological analysis. Mark’s team has developed an easy-to-use soil quality kit to help make some of those decisions. The kit has been designed to measure some major soil health factors including infiltration of water, aggregate stability, pH and electrical conductivity.  

“(With) every sampling decision you’ve got to address those trade offs. What information do you want to get and what resources do you have to bring towards addressing those questions? And then find some sort of appropriate approach somewhere in the middle.” – Mark Liebig 

Susan and Mark have benefited from each other’s careers through the skill sets they both bring to the table. Susan gets to hear about the new up and coming research and Mark gets to hear about what research is needed within the industry. Both can return to their agencies and share their findings to better prepare and direct their efforts. As Susan talks with producers, she is noticing some trends in what the general public wants to know. Her observation shows the importance of the soil health discussion.

“Another emerging topic that’s really starting to take off here is this whole linkage between soil health, plant health, animal health and human health and trying to understand those linkages.” – Susan Samson-Liebig

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Susan Samson-Liebig and Mark Liebig, both soil scientists that contribute to the industry in two different USDA agencies
  • Learn the definition of soil quality and soil health
  • Explore different testing methods to evaluate soil health in the field and what metrics are most significant to look for
  • Hear about the advantages they have found in their careers by collaborating their efforts

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

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Episode 15: Collaborations that Advance Soil Health


Tim Hammerich, Future of Agriculture

Today we review some fascinating examples of advancing soil health. One individual farmer interested in these new practices will find a lot of obstacles to being successful. Most of the farmers we have interviewed have formed collaborations with other farmers, worked with an independent agronomist, and communicated with research and extension professionals. Collaborations can’t be forced. It takes honesty and passion for achieving an end goal. These collaborations often foster deeper relationships.

“It’s fun. It seems like every day, we can talk about something new and exciting…..It’s made farming fun in my eyes.” – Tyler Zimmerman (Season 2: Episode 4)

Anthony Thilmony and Dr. Dave Franzen also shared the successes their collaboration has produced.  This farmer and extension soil scientist have worked together for decades. They show the revelations both sides can have when they work together.

“Finding this information, seeing the yield, seeing the variability is what led to “boy, can we manage this?” And I have to say so far in my experience. Yes, you can.” – Anthony Thilmony (Season 1: Episode 3 and Episode 4)

Next we move on to an unlikely duo in Tim Becker, a farmer and former extension agent, and Jason Vollmer, a farmer and full time agronomist. Over a cup of coffee, Tim and Jason started to discuss local crops and weeds. As word got out, a group of farmers started to join in and benefit from the expertise of these two.

“We’d field a lot of questions together, and you know what he didn’t know I’d know and vice versa and it just seemed like we got a good working relationship that way” – Tim Becker (Season 2: Episode 1)

The next successful collaboration we shared is from the Olsons of no relation. Mark Olson is a farmer who has worked closely with Matt Olson, an agronomist. They highlight how they have both learned from each other and have been able to share those benefits with those around them.

“I know farmers that have the attitude of, I’m not going to share with my neighbor, but I feel I’d teach everybody that you know because our neighbor is not the guy who is going to take us out in this whole game. It’s going to be something bigger like mother nature or the banker.” – Mark Olson (Season 2: Episode 8)

Susan Samson-Liebig and Mark Liebig represent an entirely different collaboration as a married couple that work in two different agricultural agencies. Mark is a Research Soil Scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Susan is a Soil Quality Specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. They epitomize the team effort that goes into supporting the farmer. Mark describes the agriculture process as three integrating circles involving innovative producers, trial or demonstration farms and researchers.

“The important thing is that those three circles overlap and there’s interaction among those three groups that is I think really powerful and finding these transformational sort of solutions that we need in agriculture.” – Mark Liebig (Season 2: Episode 13 and Episode 14)

Brad Brummond has worked in extension for 38 years. This National Association of County Agricultural Agent Hall of Fame Winner has focused his efforts on bringing agencies and organizations together to collaborate for everyone’s benefit. He had these guiding words to share with our listeners.

“What you need to do is find the passionate people and get them to leave “me” at the door and get “we.” And we start doing things together….it’s all about bringing interested people together and multiplying your effect.” – Brad Brummond (Season 2: Episode 12)

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Review some of the examples of collaboration that were shared during Season 2 of Soil Sense
  • Discover the relationships between researchers, producers and extension
  • Learn about the benefits of these collaborations
  • Hear about what’s next for the Soil Sense Programming

Follow the link to participate in our next question and answer segment to share your questions and get them answered by the experts!

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

Listen Now!

Season 3

Episode 001: Systems Thinking for Healthier Soil


Woody Van Arkel - Farmer in Dresden, Ontario
Dr. Lee Briese - Independent Crop Consultant in Edgeley, ND

Very little in this world is all or none and soil health protocols are no different. There is no one size fits all for every operation. “There’s a grey area in between that needs to be addressed” says Woody Van Arkel, a farmer in Ontario. Woody shares that some crops, specifically vegetable farming, require special handling and field management that cannot exclude all tilling practices. This resonates well with Central Crop Consulting Agronomist Dr. Lee Briese.


“I work with enough farmers that do a lot of different things and you understand right away that there’s more than one way to do things. ….The goal here is to produce a  crop and do it well while protecting the resources.” – Lee Briese


Lee recommends having producers create well defined “clear and attainable” goals such as managing water, managing soil or reducing erosion. While profitability is the underlying mission that isn’t specific enough to focus your efforts. A well-framed goal will create a measurable benchmark to better evaluate for change and success. Lee also cautions producers from “painting themselves into a corner” by prematurely picking the cover crop they would like to start with. He recommends considering what herbicides you want to use and how the residue will be managed and then determine the cover crop that best fits that program. Being flexible and considering long term planning with outcomes is critical to the success of new practices. While using these recommendations, Woody has been persuaded to choose a different cover crop mix than he would have otherwise.


“The goal is maybe not so much cover crop diversity as getting the living root system established that works. A practical system that works for the biggest part.” – Woody Van Arkel


The collaboration of Woody and Lee has created a healthy dynamic of seeking advice and not just validation. Because every situation and operation is unique they bounce ideas off of each other in order to decide what would be the best fit towards Woody’s goals.


“Using my scientific background and my experiences to try to…reduce his risk is really the way I see this for growers is just trying to make things fit so that it fits their farm, their machinery, their timing, their goals, to reduce their risk.” – Lee Briese

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Woody Van Arkel a farmer in Ontario
  • Explore the collaboration created between him and agronomist Dr. Lee Briese
  • Learn the philosophy these two share in regards to soil health practices

Connect with Soil Sense:

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

Listen Now!

Episode 002: Interseeding Cover Crops for Livestock Forage


Dr. Yvonne Lawley - Assistant Plant Science Professor at University of Manitoba
Dr. Marison Berti - Professor of Plant Sciences at NDSU

“We wanted to harness all of the potential of corn as  a feed crop but then use intercropping to overcome some of its weakness.” – Dr. Yvonne Lawley


Today we focus on interseeding cover crops with forage quality in mind and exciting areas for ongoing research. We are joined by Dr. Marisol Berti, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University, and Dr. Yvonne Lawley, an Assistant Professor in the Plant Science Department at the University of Manitoba.


“When people want to get into cover crops….we can’t really give you a recipe. We need to know what do you want the cover crops for? You know, if you want forage in the fall or forage in the spring, you’re going to have to change some practices.” – Dr. Marisol Berti


Dr. Berti found that intercropping corn with legumes such as alfalfa will provide a good forage and from a behavioral standpoint encourage the cattle to graze the field for longer periods of time in the winter because of a windbreak provided by the corn stocks. Unfortunately, there was not evidence of usable nitrogen left in the soil for the next crop. So if there isn’t the added benefit of nitrogen with interseeding, how do producers recover the added expense of cover crops while still providing forage?


“One way to get it back is when you raise cover crops, animals gain weight and that actually pays for the cover crops. So integrating with livestock really pays for the cover crops.” – Dr. Marisol Berti


Dr. Lawley shares that “science is exciting because one idea leads to a new question.” Many were surprised about the lack of nitrogen fixation after adding a legume to the corn crop. She shares that the research is ongoing and we are learning more about these fundamental processes which allow us to recommend agronomic adjustments. That in turn will allow for more accurate predictions of benefits and risks for producers.


This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Dr. Marisol Berti and Dr. Yvonne Lawley
  • Explore the benefits of interseeding corn with forage type cover crops and find out how to get the most benefit out of the process
  • Learn about ongoing research to understand the processes involved in this technique in production


Connect with Soil Sense:


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

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Woody Van Arkel a farmer in Ontario
  • Explore the collaboration created between him and agronomist Dr. Lee Briese
  • Learn the philosophy these two share in regards to soil health practices

Connect with Soil Sense:

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

Listen Now!

Episode 003-004: Cover Crops: Science, Practice, and Mindset


Greg Amundson - 4th Generation Farmer from Gilby, ND
Greg Endres - Cropping Systems Specialist with NDSU Extension

We have talked about cover crops a lot on this podcast. Today we speak with both a farmer and an extension agronomist about the decision-making required to introduce cover crops into an operation. Greg Amundson is a 4th generation farmer who farms with his dad near Gilby, North Dakota. Amundson began his venture with cover crops through an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) with the NRCS. He explains how he approaches farming from a strict bottom line perspective when he says “I probably am a lower cost producer than anyone around. I don’t push for top yields. I push for the top return.”


“You don’t learn from your successes, you learn from your failures. So if you don’t fail, you don’t know if what you’re doing is right or wrong.” Greg Amundson


We are also joined by Greg Endres, a Cropping Systems Specialist with NDSU Extension. Endres focuses his efforts on bringing more data to cover crop decision making as cover crops are generally new to many productions. He hopes to make the information available to producers in order to make the most informed and beneficial decisions.


“If we have university data for people as a starting point for cover crops, that’ll give them a better chance of being successful with their cover crop and soil health program.” – Greg Endres


Endres shares that there is not a “one size fits all” to success with cover crops. Environmental factors and crop rotation considerations must be taken into account when making decisions about what cover crops to plant and when. “It all boils down to the amount of moisture and especially timely moisture,” explains Endres. While a cover crop can provide many benefits to the soil he cautions producers from discounting the amount of soil moisture the rye or other cover crop will take up and eliminate from any interseeded crops. One study is exploring the measurement of soil moisture to determine the rye termination date with the understanding that a poorly timed killing of the rye can adversely affect the yield of the main cash crop. While interseeding with a cover crop can present this risk of limited resources for crop yield, as always there are many apparent benefits to be factored in.


“The winter rye can serve as a substitute for a pre-emergence soil applied herbicide. So in other words, you can either use rye as a suppressant and terminate the rye when appropriate. That rye will hold back weeds quite nicely. And it can be a substitute for a soil applied herbicide…..So you’re trading management with herbicide usage.” – Greg Endres


This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Greg Endres, a Cropping Systems Specialist at NDSU Extension and Greg Amundson, a fourth generation farmer in North Dakota.
  • Explore how Amundson approaches the addition of cover crops to his operation and the improvements he has observed
  • Learn from Endres about ongoing research and factors that affect your cover crop selections and management


Connect with Soil Sense:


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

This Week on Soil Sense:

  • Meet Woody Van Arkel a farmer in Ontario
  • Explore the collaboration created between him and agronomist Dr. Lee Briese
  • Learn the philosophy these two share in regards to soil health practices

Connect with Soil Sense:

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

Listen Now!