Soil Health U event returns to Salina, Kansas, in January

Jan. 18 and 19 in Salina, Kansas, farmers and ranchers will gather for High Plains Journal’s Soil Health U event, which will be held in-person for the first time since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The event will be held at the Tony’s Pizza Event Center and will include two days of educational sessions, keynotes speakers and a top-notch trade-show with vendors for all aspects of agriculture.

The 2023 conference will place particular emphasis on cultivating carbon and managing water during times of drought. Jerry Hatfield, retired U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service laboratory director and plant physiologist from Ames, Iowa, will open the event with a keynote speech entitled, “What is the real value of soil carbon: paths toward increasing productivity and profitability.” Hatfield will discuss the importance of soil carbon and how increasing its presence can better support soil nutrients and water utilization, which leads to increased productivity and a sustainable future.

“In agriculture, soil is our most precious resource, so how do we begin to utilize that soil so we can continue to improve productivity and profitability simultaneously,” he said. “If you really want to improve soils over time, we have to delve into how we can put energy back into soil and the energy we put back in all begins with a plant and the sugars the plant creates through photosynthesis. I think the more producers understand that we can change soil and improve cropping systems, it really is a fascinating puzzle and the more we understand, the better off we are in terms of ensuring our future.”

Jay Fuhrer, a conservationist at the Menoken Farm in North Dakota, is also slated to close the event with a keynote speech on day two at mid-day. His keynote is entitled, “Rebuilding and maintaining life in the soil,” and will focus on implementing the five soil health principles to rejuvenate soil and multiply carbon.

“If we’re going to move the carbon needle in an upward manner, no-till is not enough in our cropping systems,” Fuhrer said. “It’s one thing to accumulate carbon, but it’s another thing to maintain it.”

Breakout sessions

In addition to Hatfield and Fuhrer’s keynotes, Soil Health U will include breakout speakers, including Macauley Kincaid, a regenerative farmer from Missouri, presenting “Cover crops, cattle and cash flow;” Cassidy Million, director of ag science at Heliae Agriculture, presenting “Healthy soils yield healthy crops for healthy profits;” Trisha Jackson, director of regenerative agriculture at PrairieFood, presenting “Get the dirt on your soil;” Brice Custer, a regenerative farmer from Kansas, presenting “How we went from losses to profits;” Willie Pretorius, soil health consultant at Ward Laboratories Inc., presenting “Soil health gap analyses: Quantifying damage to soil health;” and Roy Pfaltzgraff, a regenerative farmer from Colorado, presenting “Don’t tell me how to do soil health.”

Also Chris Grotegut, regenerative farmer and veterinarian from Texas, presenting, “Water use and aquifer recharge, a fine balance;” Jay Young, co-owner of Young Red Angus, presenting “Going deeper into regenerative ag with compost and interseeding cover crops;” Andrew Lyon, director of conservation at the Kansas Department of Agriculture, presenting “Why soil health is important for Kansas and the world;” and Bigham , teaching assistant professor at Kansas State University, presenting “From sky to stream: A systems approach to water management.”

Bigham said producers who attend her session will learn about the watershed system from the raindrop to the river, with specific emphasis on how streams operate and what controls the dimensions, patterns and profile of a river, why streams move around in a valley, versus going straight down a valley and ways producers can manage their farms within the watershed to help the stream maintain stability.

“A lot of times farmers I talk to understand it’s a system, but I don’t think they realize just how much their decisions and how they manage their land affects the downstream, so I really want to focus on that,” she said.

In addition, the event will include a soil health resource panel entitled, “What producers need to know,” which will be moderated by Jennifer Simmelink, coordinator of the Soil Health Alliance and a regenerative grazing producer panel entitled, “Regenerative grazing: What’s your plan?” moderated by Brian Alexander, host of the “Ranching Reboot” podcast.

Bigham said she is looking forward to learning from other speakers and attendees at Soil Health U and taking home some techniques to apply on her family farm.

“Farming is complex, and attending these events gives producers an opportunity to learn what the science has been showing and help them make better decisions on their operation,” she said.

Fuhrer sees Soil Health U as an opportunity to reunite and reconnect with speakers on the agenda and attendees.

“That’s one of the big values of these conferences, especially if they’re in person,” he said. “When you’re networking, you get to hear other people’s stories and what has been working or not working in their cropping and grazing systems.”

Hatfield said he looks forward to helping producers better their operations with regenerative agriculture techniques.

“I think these events are really important for farmers to attend so they can have a dialogue with others in the industry and pick up new information,” Hatfield said. “The bottom line is I want producers to begin to think about how they can improve their systems.”

The fee to attend is $125 for pre-registration and $135 for on-site registration; students and educators can attend for $50. A total of 8.5 Certified Crop Adviser CEUs will also be available at this event. To learn more about the speakers, schedule and to pre-register, visit

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Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].