Inaugural Soil Health U inspires, informs

In a tough economic climate, farmers are seeking answers to high input costs, stagnating yields and diminished soil resources, water quality and importantly—profits.

Soil Health U, sponsored by High Plains Journal, provided some solutions. The inaugural event was held Jan. 24 and 25 in Salina, Kansas.

Jim Ramsdale was searching for a better way.

The Kingman County, Kansas, farmer already no-till farms. He has acreage in Sumner County and in northern Oklahoma. But he is losing residue to rain and heat.

“In southern Kansas, it’s hard to get enough cover because it is so hot,” he said. “It’s not like South Dakota.”

At Soil Health U and Trade Show, Ramsdale learned more about cover crops, plus the beneficial insects such crops attract. Ramsdale said he hoped to gain some nuggets to take back to his farming operation, which is in an area of the state where several farmers still use a moldboard plow.

Meanwhile, renowned speakers attracted Howard Miller to Soil Health U.

“David Brandt is one of the most brilliant minds in no-till soil health," said Miller, of Wichita, the outreach coordinator for Cheney Lake Watershed. Miller added area farmers were so excited about Brandt they decided to have him speak early about his cover crop practices.

Brandt spoke in the Hutchinson area Jan. 22 to a group of more than 70 farmers, Miller said.

Laurent Lorre came all the way from his farm in France to gather innovative ideas in America.

Every year he attends National No-Till Conference and the No-Till on the Plains Winter Conference. This year, Lorre decided to make a stop at Soil Health U in Salina to find concepts he can incorporate on his acreage across the ocean.

He grows corn, durum, wheat, sugar beets and a lot of cover crops. He first started no-till farming in 1992.

“I’ve noticed a change, yes, a lot,” he said of implementing soil health practices, adding that has meant fewer inputs, irrigation and machinery costs.

Haven, Kansas, farmer Harry Bontrager said he learned a lot from Michael Bredeson, a graduate student with Ecdysis Foundation and South Dakota State University.

Bredeson spoke about how interseeding cover crops into established corn fields develops beneficial insect communities. Bontrager was among a group of farmers who gathered around Bredeson after he spoke, asking more questions about companion crops he was working on with two volunteer farmers in South Dakota.

“It makes you look at (the concept) and think about it,” said Bontrager, who added his son had heard Bredeson speak earlier in the week and recommended the session to him.

Bontrager said his family has been no-till farming for several years. Bontrager’s hope is to continue to reduce his inputs.

“We are trying to wean a little fertilizer and herbicide out of the picture,” he said.

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Amy Bickel can be reached at 620-860-9433 or [email protected].