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2023 Healthy Soil Summit Recap

At the 5th Annual AcresUSA Healthy Soil Summit, held last week in Monterey CA., we had a great crowd of folks on hand ready to share and learn from our amazing speakers and from each other.  The conference and trade show offered a range of perspectives and encouraging case studies to support and reach everyone no matter where they are on their soil health journey.

Some attendees started the summit with an optional farm tour to the Pinnacle Organically Grown operation in Hollister and the Paicines Ranch nearby.

At Pinnacle, we toured the fields with Phil Foster who, with his wife Katherine, grows a diverse range of fruits and vegetables on farms in Hollister and San Juan Batista. We learned that Pinnacle operations have been certified organic for more than 3 decades. The Fosters have been at the forefront of implementing a wide range of regenerative agricultural practices in California, and they conduct many on-farm research trials to test alternative cropping and minimal/no-till strategies.  They plant to attract beneficial insects throughout the fields, widely utilize water saving techniques, run equipment on biodiesel and even implement production-scale composting.

At Paicines, we met the team for an overview of their philosophy toward the management of this historic 7,600 acre ranch, which is now an educational center for regenerative agriculture. Paicines Ranch is pioneering agro-ecological solutions to regenerate the landscape through a biologically-oriented approach to farming.

The team at Paicines is managing a very diverse and inherently complex integrated cropping and livestock system to produce 100% grass-fed-and-finished lamb and beef, as well as pastured pork, turkey and eggs.  They grow organic grain, as well as organic grapes in a polyculture vineyard that is designed to be managed by sheep. In all areas, they are making changes to move toward more perennial systems, more complexity, and more diversity, and they conduct in-house research to continually guide their practices.

Back at the hotel, we started the conference off with remarks from David Knaus from Apical Crop Science, who encouraged everyone to adopt a systems approach to soil health problem solving. He was followed by a lively conversation between Steve Becker and Dennis Warnecke, from Tainio Biologicals, who traded quips and memories as they gave the audience a tour of the wide range of field conditions they’ve seen and helped producers tackle over the years.

AcresUSA announced the relaunch of our long running podcast, Tractor Time, now with a new host: the Executive Director of the Quivira Coalition, Sarah Wentzel-Fisher. Upcoming not to missed conversations include interviews with Kelly Mullville who designed the extraordinary vineyards of Paicines Ranch, Tim Vos of the Southwest Grain Collaborative and Mollie Engelhart, the California chef who with her chef-husband Elias Sosa own and operate the certified organic Sow a Heart Farm.

The first day of the conference continued with a presentation by Gus Plamann, from Biome Makers, who offered the audience a deep dive into building biodiversity above and below the ground. Gus interprets biological soil test results and educates growers to help them optimize regenerative management practices and better understand how agricultural inputs impact soil health.  He discussed how newly available analytic techniques can be utilized to tailor biological input strategies designed to address specific field conditions and grower objectives.

David Knaus then came back to give us his take on “reading your soil” and shared his perspective on some of the challenges our society is facing and his vision for how we can come together to tackle these challenges. At the top of the list David mentioned the risks of tribalism and of incivility, a theme that was reinforced the next day by our keynote speaker Ray Archuletta.

The second day of the summit started with a great panel discussion moderated by Sarah Day Levesque, Managing Director of RFSI – Regenerative Food Systems Investment – and featured Gus Plamann of Biome Makers and Laura Decker, of Prolific Earth Sciences. The conversation when into some detail about intentional use of soil tests and the importance of limiting the variable when testing – ie don’t change both the location and the season when you are testing.

After the panel discussion, we heard a great talk from Dr. Yadi Wang. He shared his Arizona story of farming with cover crops as a strategy to fight desertification and rehabilitate abandoned farm land. We also saw a very cool owl box and learned how to build it.

Our key note presentation of the conference was from Ray Archuletta, who challenged us to really understand the critical role of the water cycle in regulating our planet’s climate.  Ray offered us an inspiring vision of how regenerative agricultural production can help each of us make a difference to the earth – starting at the local level with the all important cover crops that Ray usefully has re-christened “service crops.”

Following Ray – which was not an easy spot to be in – we heard from Christie Apple from Timac Agro USA, who is known as CropScout Christie and who gave us a great roadmap for how to think about working with product manufacturers. She outlined questions to ask yourself and the sales people before you decide to buy any input.

Our Lunch & Learn opportunity gave everyone a chance to move around and join a conversation in one of these six key subjects:

  1. Nitrogen Use Effectiveness
  2. Soil Testing
  3. Regenerative Fertility
  4. Soil Biology
  5. Soil Amendments
  6. Plan Nutrition

Takeaways from the lunchtime discussion included the importance of community; the fact that adaptation takes time and we need to support traditional growers as they make their way along the path; and the evidence for regenerative practices as a profitable strategy for producers.

Jim Pingrey (JRP Crop Consulting and TEP, Inc) jump-started the afternoon by drawing out that last lunchtime point about the profitability of implementing regenerative strategies. He walked us through some great case studies that he’s been involved with over the years, illustrating how these strategies can be profitable, with high yields and happy producers.

Our final panel of the conference discussed the importance of timing and selectivity: utilizing the right biostimulants and the right innoculants at the right times.  Our speakers were Justin Wylie (Wylie Farms), Jason Hobson ( AEA) , Jim PIngrey, Jorge Camacho (Baja Agra International) and Christie Apple and they focused on how to think critically about biological inputs and target specific problems to find the keys that can unlock growth and profitability.

We closed with fun give aways including a Yeti filled with something delicious to drink, a $100 gas card and a $100 certificate for books at the AcreUSA bookstore. See you next year!

Catch us in Covington this December!

Every year, the Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show sets a new standard for innovative and practical learning in modern agriculture. Each moment of programming is thoughtfully curated to provide useful, practical and measurable information and connections that you can apply to your operation. Join us for the main conference and trade show on Dec. 6-7 or decide to come early for one of our incredible full-day Eco-Ag U intensive workshops… either way you can expect a fulfilling experience that will include: 

1. Exceptional learning from leading farmers, agronomists, and others who are pioneering a new way to farm ecologically and economically. 

2. Engagement with innovative companies building tools and services to help you surpass your goals.

3. Connecting with your peers who are also seeking to chart a new path forward for their operations and with experienced growers and agronomists who have valuable lessons learned and are ready to share. 

Register Today!