Soil Health Resources

Use this page as a resource to grow your own diverse knowledge base and community around healthy soils!

Who are we?

At Northern Plains, we are building a network of Montanans (the Soil Builders Network) who are interested in improving our state’s soil health through good practice and good policy. We a multigenerational land stewards and we believe that when we work together to increase the life and diversity in our soil, that life and diversity is increased in our plants, wildlife, and communities. When we focus on soil, we make thoughtful decisions that better the health of our water, air and food and make our communities more resilient. We believe we can learn from nature and each other through positive communication to build healthy soil and keep families on the land and in rural communities.

 

What is the purpose of this community resource page?

Healthy soils provide every advantage to agricultural producers and their communities: higher yields, better water storage, drought resistance, less erosion, healthier food, and carbon storage.

You can utilize this page for soil health education, skill-building, information dissemination and to learn more about Northern Plains soil crawls. On these pages you’ll get access to soil health experts, resources, and community services. 

Additionally, you can connect with others through our Soil Builder’s Network. Sign up by sending an email to gusty@northernplains.org. Anyone can ask experts about soil, share the latest resources or events, and let others know what practices are working for them. We want to ensure that our community has the information needed to build resilient operations and systems as our climate changes and more extreme weather events occur.

Building soil health is different everywhere depending on a property’s existing soils, history, and microclimate.“Soil Crawls,” are public events where we gather to explore the soil health on our members’ ranches and farms to learn what we could do to improve. Over the last eight years, our soil crawls have brought together hundreds of people in more than sixty different communities across the state and region. This has expanded the number of people participating in restoring our soil and has empowered individuals to create regenerative abundance locally and for the long haul.

 

Click here to learn more about where we have hosted soil crawls in Montana and the topics of each.

 

“Soil is our most important land asset. Along with sunlight and water, soil provides the basis for all terrestrial life; the biodiversity around us; the field crops that we harvest for food and fiber. Healthy soils provide ecosystem services, support healthy plant growth, resist erosion, store water, retain nutrients, and are an environmental buffer in the landscape.”

– NICOLE MASTERS, INTEGRITY SOILS, NZ

Soil health educators have taught five universal principles of soil health, which are essential to get started with building healthy soil.

Click here to learn more about each principle.

“Farmers and ranchers use the term soil health to describe the condition of the soil. Scientists usually use the term soil quality, but both refer to the same idea — how good is the soil in its role of supporting the growth of high-yielding, high-quality, and healthy crops?”

– WESTERN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE RESEARCH AND EDUCATION

 

Getting Started

Dig around these excellent handouts and presentations on beginning regenerative agriculture practices. Don’t forget to check out our 2022 Soil Resources List to help you take a step forward with your own healthy soils practices & understanding. 

Getting Started resources:

  • Soil Health Workshop: This handout from Integrity soils will help ground you in the basics of soil health. 
  • Scobey: Many states have a designated state bird, flower, fish, tree, rock, etc. And, many states also have a state soil – one that has significance or is important to the state. The Scobey is the official state soil of Montana.
  • Leading with Soil: Agricultural practices that build soil health and increase carbon storage offer a significant economic and environmental opportunity for farmers and ranchers across the United States. Learn more from this booklet by Carbon 180.
  • Keys to Success for Regenerative Gardening: Learn how to apply the principles of soil health in a tangible way with this presentation from member Patti Armbrister.
  • Designing for Resilience: This presentation from Broken Ground Permaculture will help you set goals and think through regenerative agriculture practices for your operation.

 

Financial

Agricultural producers have to grapple with business plans and economics and wear many hats. There are programs like Ranching for profit and  “grassland financial calculators” that can be used to explore the benefits to offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and assist with an individual’s agriculture production. Watch this presentation about carbon credits and join our email forum to learn more.

Additionally, take a look at these presentations by Land Core and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to learn more about the Farm Bill, which specifically addresses crop insurance and other programs that can work to incentivize risk mitigation and regenerative agricultural practices. There are many science based solutions, voluntary programs and assistance tools available for agricultural producers. The Natural Resource Conservation Service website houses many of these opportunities.

Do not hesitate to reach out to ask questions about these programs or to provide feedback about how they have worked or not worked for you. 

 

Soil Testing and Amendments

Spend some time browsing through this compilation of resources on the topic of soil amendments and soil testing. This is just a starting point and we hope you will join our email forum to continue to learn more! Reach out to gusty@northernplains.org to sign up.


Reach out to the soil health organizer, Gusty Sauer, with any further questions at 406-248-1154, or email at
gusty@northernplains.org.
Learn more about Northern Plains’ soil work.

Soil Summits

Our soil summits are community gatherings where farmers and ranchers, scientists, nonprofits, agency officials, and legislators come together to explore how soil health practices, policy and financing tools can promote soil health in Montana.

Please enjoy these recordings from past Soil Summits.

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