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Introduction to regenerative agriculture principles for soil health management

The objectives of this workshop are to help farmers:

  • Increase their understanding of what soil is and the links between soil biology and soil health
  • Be able to identify and link regenerative agriculture principles with improved soil health
  • Understand the productivity benefits of improved soil health for farmers
  • Learn about NRCS’s Four Principles to Building Healthy Soil and the Steps to Developing a Soil Health Management System

This workshop opens up with Michelle Galimba, providing an inspirational talk which calls our awareness towards the relationship we form with the soil, starting with how we view, value and care for the soil that our livelihoods and nourishment are based upon. Michelle is a cattle rancher in Ka’u on Hawaiʻi Island where she runs Kua-hiwi Ranch with her brother, Guy Galimba. Their family ranch provides locally grown beef to supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and restaurants on O‘ahu and Hawaiiʻi Island. She grew up on dairy farms in Hawaiʻi and has been involved with her family’s ranch since it started on abandoned sugar-cane acreage in the early 1990’s. She shares her memories of her mother regenerating this land with practices such as planting legume cover crops to fix nitrogen. Having grown up in agriculture in Hawaiʻi, she has seen first hand the stresses and constraints which make farming and ranching particularly challenging in Hawaiʻi. But with these challenges, Hawai’i also has gifts in understanding how to see and malama ‘aina. You can find some of her agriculture-related writing at Resilience.org

Following Michelle, Jonathan Deenik, specialist with CTAHR’s Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, delves into some of the technical aspects of soil. Soil health was defined as “the capacity of soil to function as a vital living system to sustain biological productivity, maintain environment quality, and promote plant, animal, and human health.” The functions and services provided by soil biological, chemical, and physical properties were explored. The diversity of Hawai’i soils were explored across the islands. On-farm trial research showing the response of different soil types to different management regimes were also discussed.

Jennifer Moore, Research Soil Scientist with USDA Agricultural Research Service, provided us with a better understanding of how to interpret and integrate microbial tests into management decisions. She shared a tool she developed during her time with NRCS, the In-Field Soil Health Assessment. Important considerations for farmers who want to utilize the tool for their own monitoring were shared. We demonstrated this tool in Workshop 2. 

Amy Koch, Assistant Director for Soil Science with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Pacific Islands Area, introduced us to principles that can be used to build healthy soil and steps to develop a soil health management system. The four principles to improve soil health included: keep the soil covered at all times, maximize diversity, keep living roots in the soil, and minimize soil disturbance.