What do academics, farmers, agency personnel, and conservation advocates have in common?
It’s not a trick question! They all care about healthy soil – as demonstrated at our well-attended Soil Health Symposium at Upper Iowa University. The event was hosted by the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District and co-sponsored by the Izaak Walton League, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Fayette and Winneshiek Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Pheasants Forever, and Upper Iowa University.
Restoring soil health is critical to reducing runoff from farms that pollutes streams and wetlands and causes flooding downstream. The League supports federal, state, and local programs that help farmers and ranchers regenerate the health of their soils.
Symposium attendees were treated to informative presentations by Frederick Kirschenmann, a North Dakota farmer and Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center of Sustainable Agriculture; innovative West Union farmer Loren Steinlage; first-generation North Carolina farmer Russell Hedrick; and world-renowned soil scientist and leader in the soil health movement Dr. Kris Nichols. Covering topics from soil microbiology to innovative ways to integrate cover crops into conventional farm operations, the symposium brought home the potential for regenerating soil health to address water quality, climate change, and flooding while earning farmers a better living.
Linking the effects of intense industrialized agriculture with public health, Dr. Nichols pointed out that growing rates of obesity and diabetes in America are partly due to corn hybrids engineered to produce much higher yields, which only can happen if the plant is producing more sugar. With the substitution of high fructose corn syrup in lieu of traditional cane sugar in much of our processed food, Americans are getting much more sugar than they need.
On the topic of monoculture crops versus diversity, Dr. Nichols offered this gem: “We have the best soil in the world [for growing food] and we’re growing low-grade feed stock and industrial products.”
Farmer Russell Hedrick got everyone’s attention with a short video that showed him planting soybeans through a grass cover crop that was taller than his tractor. He told attendees that “the biggest ag export in the U.S. is soil” – enough soil to fill a 117-mile-long train every year runs off U.S. farms.
It was an informative day for attendees and the League was pleased to co-sponsor this important conference. We hope to be involved in similar events in the future.