REGIONAL SOIL HEALTH COHORT
This cohort training program is designed to support commercial farmers by providing them with resources, skills, and motivation to understand and operationalize the link between soil health, soil fertility, and production issues. Farmers participating in the cohort will receive a complimentary soil health test and support to design and trial a soil health practice on their farm. Recognizing that each operation is unique and goals for soil improvement will vary for each cohort participant, this training program emphasizes working directly with each farmer to produce customized, sensible designs for their farms. Using a service-oriented approach to support the farmer’s design process, Oahu RC&D will arrange consultation and design review with Hawaii’s leading soil health experts and help work through barriers to implementing the design. After completing this program, farmers will feel confident routinely testing and assessing indicators for soil health and will develop a strategy for trialing and monitoring improvements in their soil properties over time.
What will I learn from this training program?
Farmers participating in this training program will gain confidence in assessing indicators of soil health on their farm and integrating regular soil health lab testing with a soil fertility testing regime. They will understand how to connect observed production issues such as low germination rates, increased pest and disease pressure, low water and nutrient uptake, and erosion with a potential lack of soil function. Based on this observation, they will learn how to develop a strategy for improving soil health on their farm that includes a timeline for integrating selected soil health practices and methods for measuring improvements over time. As part of this strategy, they will assess the general upfront costs of soil health practices and learn about funding to support their strategies for integrating these practices on their farm. They will also work with specialist to identify creative ways to brand and market their regenerative practices to access premium markets. Working with their fellow cohort members and local specialist, participants will become part of a network of farmers who are both new and experienced to soil health system adoption. Through this network, participants will have the opportunity to forge relationships with both local and national soil health technical specialists and contribute to a growing body of knowledge about practices relevant to Hawaii.
How is this training program delivered? What is the time commitment?
This training is being delivered through a cohort in order to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, motivation, accountability, and to support the adoption of innovative soil health practices on local farms.
Training cohorts will be held regionally on Oahu – North Shore, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island – Kona with each tailored to the predominant soil types and based on the main management challenges associated with these soil types. Each cohort will include 12 workshop sessions delivered over an 8-week period. The workshop series is designed to walk participants through the process of testing and identifying in-field indicators of soil health, setting soil health goals, identifying management practices that can help reach these goals, and integrating these practices into their farm design and operations. The training sessions will include a viability model and system for routinely measuring improvements over time.
The workshop series will include in-person sessions held at local farms and virtual sessions. The virtual sessions will be delivered live and recorded. The recorded version will be offered through an online learning platform, allowing participants to work through sessions that they miss. This also allows participants to view the material again. Each of the recorded sessions will include interactive quizzes to help the farmer test their competency in retaining the information and being able to give thought on the application for their farm.
The workshop series is designed to walk participants through the process of testing and identifying in-field indicators of soil health, setting soil health goals, identifying management practices that can help reach these goals, and integrating these practices into their farm design and operations. The training sessions will include a viability model and system for routinely measuring improvements over time. The workshop series will be grounded in farmer stories/case studies and demo examples. Cohort facilitators, trainers, and farm leaders will set the tone for ‘co-designing’ soil health solutions and creative thought towards what makes sense for each participant’s unique farm operation.
This training program is being organized and administered by Oahu RC&D through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Pacific Islands Area State Office.
Who will benefit from this training? What value will I receive from participating?
Although this training program is free to participating farmers, the cost to cover each participant is estimated at roughly $2,000 per individual farmer. Farmers participating in this training program will receive a free soil health lab test from the Crow Soil Ecology and Biogeochemistry Lab Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, the University of Hawaii Manoa (valued at $200). A comprehensive soil health plan will be conducted as a demonstration for each cohort, starting with Oahu.
This training program will benefit farm business owners and farm managers interested in restoring on-farm ecosystem services and the benefits provided by improved soil health and function. Transitioning the land to an improved state and investing in soil health practices provides long-lasting benefits to the farm and greater community. Tenant farmers attending this training will increase their skill set while providing additional value and service to the landowner and the land. This program will also cover new funding opportunities that support soil health planning through Farm Bill programming which will help participants’ implement their soil health strategy developed through this training.
Training Program Timeline and Sessions
Promote and Select Candidates for the cohort training program.
*Priority will be given to commercial farmers on the North Shore of Oahu.
[The schedule below is tentative and subject to change]
March 7 -Week of 21, 2022
Cohort application review, selection and onboarding.
March 29- April 15, 2022
The first three sessions of this training will provide producers with a foundational understanding of how improving soil health may address some of the nutrient, pest, disease, and productivity issues observed on their farm. Workshop 1 will set a foundation for how each subsequent session will address soil health and soil fertility. Participants in these training sessions will learn how to use in-field soil health indicators to assess the health of their soil and attribute this loss to potential crop and management challenges on their farm. The ability to assess soil health using simple, low-cost methods will enable producers to troubleshoot and ‘rule out’ how poor soil health is contributing to their decline in crop health and productivity.
Session 1: Linking improved soil health and function to better crop performance [In-person, 2 hours]
Session 2: In-Field Soil Health Indicators, Assessment and Sampling [in-person, 5 hours, Lonohana Estate]
One-on-one session on your farm: Oahu RC&D staff will work with each cohort participants to take soil samples on their farm and submit these samples to the UH Crow Lab to test for soil health using parameters that are relevant to Hawaii.
Week of April 26 – Week of May 24, 2022
The next series of workshops will demonstrate a soil health practice to support the farm’s nutrient management regime, address pest and disease concerns, and productivity. Farmers will be exposed to demonstrations of soil health practices other farmers have tried. Demonstrations of the soil health practice will include a discussion of the estimated cost to install and maintain the practice. Farmers will use the demonstration of soil health practices and their soil health goals to identify which practice(s) they want to trial on their farm. Fellow farmers in the cohort and Oahu RC&D will help each farmer setup their trial, address any barriers and work with them over a months time to install and observe their soil health practice. Upon completion of these sessions, farmers will be encouraged to find their own solutions based on their understanding of the contributions that can be made from improving soil health functionality for their operation and based on their individual soil health goal(s) for their farm.
Session 4: Designing practices to increase organic matter, soil structure and tilth [In-person, 2 hours, Thrive Farm]
Session 5: Designing practices to reduce crop pests & disease pressure through improved soil health. [In-person, 2 hours, Hua Orchard]
Session 6: Designing for soil health with seasoned farm mentors [in-person, 2 hours, Kahuku Farms]
Week of May 30- Week of June 13, 2022
One-on-one session on your farm: Using examples presented in the previous sessions, farmers will work one-on-one with Oahu RC&D staff, leading experts and other farmers to set soil health goals and to talk through and design a soil health practice to trial on their farm. Farmers not ready to design a trial on their own farm can learn from the trial of another farmer in the cohort.
Week of June 21– Week of June 28, 2022
Session 7: Budgeting and Branding Your Regenerative Practices [Virtual, 2 hours]
These sessions will bring everything together and allow cohort producers to use the soil health assessment and goals they developed in earlier sessions. They will be guided through a process to develop an action plan and budget for implementing a soil health practice(s) on their farm. Included in the action plan will be a schedule for routinely assessing in-field indicators of soil health and/or submitting soil samples to measure improvements observed from trialing their soil health practice. Opportunities for farmers participating in this cohort to share their trials and observations through a farmer-to-farmer learning network will also be introduced.
Session 8: Setting Up for a Soil Health Plan and a Simple Process to Measure and Share Improvements Over Time [Virtual, 2 hours]
ORCD staff will share the findings of a soil health plan developed with a farmer from the cohort. This example will be used to help farmers prep for developing a strategy and/or preparing to work with a TSP to develop a soil health plan for their operation.
Training Series Topics & Learning Objectives
Training Session 1: Introduction to regenerative agriculture principles for soil health management
- Understand 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.
Training Session 2 & On-Farm Consultation: How to monitor, assess and set soil health goals on your farm
- Understand the difference between testing for the needs of soil nutrients versus soil health;
- Know how to collect and submit a sample for soil health testing;
- Learn in-field techniques to test soil health using the NRCS In-Field Soil Health Assessment Guide;
- Be able to assess and relate soil health characteristics with observed management concerns such as compacted soil and poor water infiltration;
- Be able to access and use our WFN Regenerative Agriculture Assessment Tool to develop a custom list of ‘Soil Health Goals’ based on resource concerns for your farm.
Training Sessions 3-7 & On-Farm Consultations: Designing a soil health practice and setting up systems to monitor improvements over time
- Know how specific cover cropping systems and organic fertilizers can be selected to meet your soil health goals for your farm;
- Understand how to account for the contributions of cover crops and organic fertilizers into your farm’s nutrient management system;
- Be able to link improved soil health and nutrient management needs on your farm;
- Be able to identify changes in soil health after implementation of new management practice, focusing on trials and improvements from using cover crops and organic fertilizers;
- Become familiar with an in-field soil incubator test to determine the amount of microbial activity in your soil;
- Learn how to setup a simple on-farm fertilizer trail and the results other farmers are seeing.
Training Session 8 & 9: Branding, Budgeting Your Regenerative Practices and Setting up for a Soil Health Plan
- Introduction to a soil health plan in Hawaii, how it is generated, and how to use it on your farm;
- Working understanding of the USDA NRCS programs and resources that support management practices to improve soil health and the development of a soil health plan;
- SWCD regional resources and planning to support soil health management;
- Soil health testing indicators in Hawaii;
- Using soil health testing as a management tool to monitor continuous improvements in soil health over time.
“Increasing organic matter, improving nutrient use efficiency, increasing aggregate stability, enhancing and diversifying soil biology and habitat, and increasing water infiltration and water holding capacity are objectives farmers must continuously consider in their management decisions and field operations if they want to make soil health a priority.”