More than 80 Montana farmers, ranchers, academics, gathered on October 16 at the Red Lion Hotel in Billings to hear about the latest developments in increasing soil health and soil carbon storage.
The 2016 Soil Summit was sponsored by Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation and family ag organization based in Billings.
“We only have 60 years of production left in our soils if we continue our current agricultural practices,” said Blain Hjertaas, a Saskatchewan farmer and rancher, and holistic management professional. “I want there to be something left for our grandkids to eat, and I think we all should be concerned about that.”
Hjertaas said soil depletion by over-use of chemicals has reduced the nutritive value of food and the ability of soil to grow crops.
Molly Haviland, director of Haviland Earth Regeneration in Iowa, stressed that microbiology in the soil is what makes things grow. “When we put chemicals on our soil to kill the bad bugs or fungus, it doesn’t differentiate, and kills all of the beneficial biology in the soil too. That biology is how our plants get nutrients and grow, and without them, food as we know it is done.”
Hjertaas said he has increased production on his operation where he uses chickens, sheep, cows, and cover crops to ensure that the 22 inches of annual precipitation goes into the soil, rather than runs off. He stressed that “bare soil is the enemy, just imagine what happens to your skin, when you don’t keep it covered in all sorts of weather conditions, but especially under the sun, soil needs that same protection to keep the rest of the earth below it functioning.”
Participants used the day to address their questions about soil carbon storage and needs to move forward in building more resilient operations and developing a better network of farmers and ranchers trying these new practices.
Montana State University in Bozeman offers student internships to help complete soil monitoring and train a workforce in the soil-regeneration field.
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