Soil School: How to spot a farmer committed to soil health

One of the first things you notice about farmers committed to soil health is their curiosity, says North Dakota State soil researcher Abbey Wick.

The topic of soil health has gained a tremendous amount of followers over the last ten years. There’s a large, dynamic community devoted to the topic, too — from farmers and researchers, to consultants and extension specialists.

Dr. Abbey Wick, extension soil health specialist and associate professor at North Dakota State University (NDSU), recently presented at the Ontario Agricultural Conference (OAC) where RealAg’s Bernard Tobin caught up with her for this episode of the Soil School.

Wick started her position at NDSU about eight years ago, and has also noticed the increasing interest in soil health. “One of the things that I’ve seen since starting my position, is that it really is taking off, whether you’re looking at social media, events farmers are attending — we’re getting new faces at our meetings all the time here,” says Wick.

Adopting soil health practices doesn’t have to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and it’s for every farm, but it does take commitment. Some of the characteristics of a typical farmer committed to soil health were discussed at the OAC event.

“The word that comes to mind is curiosity,” says Wick. “Most of the farmers working in soil health are very curious about their systems. Those questions that they have about the way they’re doing things on their farm is what drives them towards change.”

‘Somewhat stubborn’ also comes to mind for Wick, because farmers who are into soil health not to try it, but to make it work for their operation — but not so stubborn to the point where they take big risks, lose a lot of money, and over-commit to something that just won’t work for their farm. Smart is also a word that Wick would use to describe a farmer who’s committed to soil health.

Wick adds that transparency and when farmers and researchers are willing to share what works and what doesn’t work, adds credibility to the conversation and to the person sharing the information.

As for advising, Wick says she lets the farmers decide what advice they need. “That’s one of the best things that researcher or extension specialists can do, is when going to a farm, to listen to what those farmers want out of those practices, and to not come in with any assumptions that you’re going to have the information they need.”

Watch the full conversation between Wick and Tobin below:

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