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Soil health works everywhereSoil health works everywhere

Keep context in mind of what will work in your operation with your soil types, practices and environment.

Kevin Schulz

June 29, 2023

3 Min Read
Close-up of cover crops
LIVING ROOTS: Adding cover crops to a cash grain rotation is beneficial for overall soil health. Cover crops also benefit grazing livestock, thus fulfilling another soil health principle. Kevin Schulz

Regardless of soil type, all soils can benefit from implementing the six soil health principles.

“Soil health principles work everywhere because they’re based in nature,” says Liz Haney, soil and ecosystem scientist and co-founder of Soil Regen. “We’re trying to mimic what nature does in our row cropping system. So, while the principles need to be applied differently, depending on your climate and your context, and your soil type, and they may respond differently — they still work everywhere.”

Though the soil health principles — soil cover, limited disturbance, diversity, living roots, integrated livestock, context — are the same for everyone, each producer needs to figure out how they can be best implemented into their practices.

“You really have to get specific to your field, your farm, your practices, your situation and your context,” she says. “And that’s why that sixth principle [context] is so important.”

Just as not all operations are the same, Haney’s advice is not the same to every farmer. “I first ask them what their challenges are and give them some possible ideas about how we might meet those challenges,” she says. “I’m not preaching; I just try and help farmers with whatever they’re dealing with.”

Being “on an island” is one of the biggest challenges that Haney hears from farmers who may want to try new practices while their neighbors are farming the same way they always have.

Haney helps producers understand what the soil and the plants are trying to tell them, “and how that interaction is going to work better for them,” she says. “Rainfall is the biggest challenge, whether it’s too much or too little. We have no control over that, so we try to mitigate the resilience to the effects of how the plants in the soil are going to interact to any amount of moisture.”

Conservation of moisture can be achieved by using cover crops, which bring along with them other production questions: When to terminate the cover crop? What cover crop to plant? What cover crop works best on a certain piece of land?

For Haney, adding cover crops to a system is the key to soil health — keeping that living plant in the soil.

No-till optimum

Though she is a strong believer in no-till, “I am not a ‘never tiller’,” Haney says, acknowledging that there are times when tillage is necessary, such as fixing flood-damaged ground or ruts left by equipment in wet conditions.

“There are some soils that should not be farmed,” she says, “I got some soil samples back recently and they were 30% carbon. You would think that they would be just great, but they’re a mucky soil — just total muck. It’s a swampland. It needs to be a duck pond, and they’re trying to grow crops in it. So not everything is going to work everywhere.”

In Haney’s area of central Texas, she says short-statured corn is grown “because of our temperature; it gets too warm. In my opinion, it should all be grasslands. That’s what it was in the beginning, but people have to make a living and I’m not going to get in the way of that.”

Healthy soil, healthy area

Haney preaches soil health and regenerative agriculture as modes to carry producers to sustainable operations. “We’re trying to weave the story of soil health in return on investment, because if we can help farmers with their return on investment, the more money will be going to rural economies, and we can revive rural America,” she says.

Haney and her husband, Rick, developed the Haney Soil Test that is widely used to determine soil nutrients and other soil health indicators.

Liz Haney and Russell Hedrick started Soil Regen in 2019, and they focus on hosting soil health events and one-on-one farmer training, “trying to bring education from the big group down to the individual farmer,” she says. “We also help companies with transitioning their farmers to regenerative, or understanding what their products are doing in the soil from a farmer perspective and then a soil scientist perspective.”

One such event is a Beyond the Yield workshop set for Aug. 2-3 at Kearney, Neb.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

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