Nebraska Soil Health School Connects Farmers, Researchers, Conservationists and Ag Professionals

Nebraska Soil Health School attendees listen to lecture
A participant at the Nebraska Soil Health School learns how to use the Munsell Soil Color Chart, an in-field tool useful for gauging the color characteristics of soil.

Nebraska Soil Health School Connects Farmers, Researchers, Conservationists and Ag Professionals

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) hosted the second Nebraska Soil Health School, sponsored by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), on June 27-28 at the West Central Research, Extension and Education Center (WCREEC). The event was well attended by over 60 producers, agriculture professionals, NRCS conservationists and summer interns.

The lead coordinator of the Nebraska Soil Health Schools, Bijesh Maharjan, UNL associate professor and extension specialist, welcomed the audience and introduced keynote speaker Paul Jasa, UNL extension engineer. Jasa, a winner of the No-Till Farmer Innovative Award, addressed conservation agriculture and soil health principles by using a systems approach to no-till and residue farming practices.

“Turns out soil health is a hot topic with producers but more importantly, it is with society as well. There are a lot of people thinking about healthy soil which gives you healthier crops, healthier food, healthier communities,” Jasa said. “Practicing a systems approach means taking into account that each step effects the next, all the way to the final outcome.”

Maharjan and school attendee talking
Figure 1. Lead coordinator of the Nebraska Soil Health Schools, Bijesh Maharjan (right) discusses a topic with an attendee during the afternoon session of the second school held in North Platte at UNL’s West Central Research, Extension and Education Center on June 27.
Soil exam exercise
Figure 2. Riley Hackbart (left), an NRCS soil scientist, demonstrates how to create a soil profile card to an attendee at the Nebraska Soil Health School on June 27.

The free event was open to anyone and designed to create an educational, networking opportunity. Attendees heard the latest on fundamental soil health principles, soil health science and demonstrations from UNL researchers and educators, and a team from NRCS. Many of the participants were from area ag businesses like seed companies and laboratories, conservation districts and Nebraska Game and Parks.

“The soil school was very informative and interactive,” an attendee said of the event. “Everyone should bring a friend that is not practicing soil health.”

At the school, graduate students were invited to enter a poster contest displaying an ongoing soil health related study. Attendees could view the entries and interact with the students throughout the event. Winners of the contest were: Grace Pacheco, first; Bridget McKinley and Lithma Kariyawasam, second; Sujani De Silva, third.

A highlight on the final day was the interactive panel discussion moderated by Maharjan with NRCS State Soil Scientist Carlos Villarreal, producer Steve Tucker, Jasa, UNL WCREEC extension educator for economics Shannon Sand and UNL extension specialist Jerry Volesky.

“The panel was fantastic. I enjoyed the interaction between producer, educator, and USDA,” an attendee said of the event.

One of the final questions directed to the panel from the audience was, “what will happen to the 20,000-acre farmer that doesn’t use soil health practices in 20 years.”

“It is a slow, gradual process and we must keep championing the soil health message,” Tucker said. “It will take time, but it is working.”

The 2023 final Nebraska Soil Health School will be a collaborative effort with the Soil Health Nexus Regional In-Service sponsored by the NRCS on Tuesday, Aug. 1 and Wednesday Aug. 2 at UNL’s Haskell Ag Lab in Concord, Nebraska. The two-day event will be free to attend, including full lunches and refreshments. This event will highlight morning plot tours with many hands-on opportunities and demonstrations, and afternoon speakers as well as student poster presentations.

For more information and to register for the third school, go to the event webpage.

For questions about Nebraska Soil Health Schools, email Nicole Heldt.

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