Although we may already know a great deal about soil, we at Soil Stewardship are committed to furthering our education even more. One way that we do this is by attending soil conferences across Colorado (and sometimes even across the nation). In January, we excitedly attended the VINCO 2015 Conference in Grand Junction, CO which focused on soil health. A bit more recently we went to the High Plains No Till Conference in Burlington, CO. The following are some highlights from both conferences.
VINCO 2015, held in conjunction with the annual Western Colorado Horticultural Society meeting
We arrived at this conference a day early for a bus tour. Along with a large mass of other people, we toured a couple different farms and composting facilities in the area. We learned about some of the actions farmers are taking to ensure the health of their soil, plants, and final fruit/vegetable products. We gained much more respect for the joys and struggles that farmers face when growing grapes, peaches, and other fruits here in Colorado. During the tour we also came to fall in love with the breathtaking natural beauty of Colorado’s Western Slope! What an absolutely gorgeous place to be!
The following day began the conference lectures. Dr. Michael Bird, a highly respected professor at Michigan State University known for his research on nematodes, gave several talks about the connection between soil health and the amount of microbes in the soil. He cited a variety of research studies to back up his claims. One such study showed that blue grama grass growing in soil with bacteria and fungi grew significantly more than the same grass growing in sterile soil. He also cited research done by MSU that showed how mulched plants had more microbiology growth in the soil and in the “O-horizon” (the area right above the soil) than the ones growing in tilled or herbicide-treated soil. The plants with more microbiology grew significantly better.
We also enjoyed attending lectures presented by Dr. Essie Fallahi, professor at the University of Idaho. Dr. Fallahi comes from a family of orchardists from Persia. He is very much in tune with the fruit producers in his region. Dr. “Essie” also promoted soil health as a way to conserve water and produce higher quality fruit under arid growing conditions. We were interested to learn that Idaho is moving into large-scale production of table grapes in spite of their northern location. Dr. “Essie” is definitely an amazing university resource person.
This conference also offered us a chance to meet and educate a variety of people through the tradeshow. Soil Stewardship “womanned” its own booth, and over the course of the two days, we met many great people. We enjoyed listening to many peoples’ individual experiences with farming, and we had fun showing off our worms, vermicompost and compost tea brewer. We were also happy to see the enthusiasm that many of the people there had for worms and worm compost!
High Plains No Till Conference
This conference was a wealth of knowledge about soil health, especially as it pertained to soil in windy, semi-aired climates like one would find on the high plains of Colorado. We learned a great deal about the different measures that farmers in this region are taking in order to ensure that their plants and soils remain healthy over time.
During the conference we attended a variety of lectures. One lecturer, a well-known soil scientist named Dr. Elaine Ingham, gave several talks about the importance of soil health. She stated that plants can get almost all of their necessary nutrients from the soil if it has a healthy amount of soil life, meaning that soils should be given special attention by farmers who want to grow bountiful, healthy crops. Her basic message was:
Often farmers add nutrients to their soils when it is not necessary. Generally, there is already an overabundance of nutrients in our soils; however, these nutrients are many times only available when broken down into soluble forms by the soil’s living micro- and macro-biology. This biology lives in a complex soil food web. This web is critical for cycling nutrients, making them available to plants, and retaining the nutrients in the soil, rather than allowing them to leach into the soil or volatilize.
She also stated that a healthy, balanced soil food web is great for decomposing toxins, building soil structure, and suppressing disease. Therefore, if the micro- and macro-biology in soils is well maintained, many of our different soil problems can be eliminated or at least better controlled.
Both conferences were such positive experiences. We learned a lot, met some great people, and enjoyed seeing other areas of Colorado. We appreciated all of the knowledge that these experts in their fields were able to impart on us, and we loved connecting with other people who share our similar fascination with soil. We cannot wait to return next year.