Advanced Soil Health Training – Program Summary - American Farmland Trust

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Advanced Soil Health Training – Program Summary

As part of our work to scale up the adoption of climate-smart approaches in row crop systems, American Farmland Trust is excited to launch our 2024/2025 Advanced Soil Health Training (ASHT), a program funded by the USDA through the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities (PCSC) program. In partnership with Truterra, AFT will sponsor and train soil health advisors who can share their expertise with their communities. This program is designed to deepen the soil health knowledge of experienced farmers and farm advisors and give them the tools to bring this knowledge to a wider audience! We are seeking applicants who have some experience implementing soil health practices, are ready to deepen their own knowledge and impact in mentoring, and are excited to partner with us to enroll and facilitate transitions on farms you work with (including your own if you farm).

The training will be facilitated by leading agricultural education professionals with decades of experience in soil health management.  Each of our three trainers (Barry Fisher, Brandon Smith, and Dennis Chessman) has held leadership positions with the Soil Health Division of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in regions throughout the country. (Please see their biographies at the bottom of this page for more information and details about their experience.

This ASHT will combine academic and hands-on training to prepare trainees for real-world management challenges. Foundational concepts and theories will be taught in classroom settings through interactive lectures, and visits by guest speakers. After the classroom session, participants will experience, apply, and test their knowledge through site visits to demonstration farms that are implementing soil health practices. In order to make the training relevant to your production systems, we will be launching ASHT courses in several areas of the country: Midwest, Southeast, New York state, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic regions. Participants will be coached through the development of a Soil Health Impact Plan for fostering soil health systems adoption on farms in their community and will have access to supplemental online resources and networking tools to maintain connections built during the training and to mentor other farmers in adopting soil health practices. Participants can expect to strengthen their skills in 4 core areas:

  1. The science of soil health and practical implementation of practices that improve it
  2. How to troubleshoot and adapt management for particular and changing circumstances
  3. How to effectively communicate about practice adoption
  4. How to grow a supportive and engaged network
Photo: Barry Fisher leading a training

When and where will the training happen?

Each course cohort will meet for four (4) two-day sessions of in-person training in the Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, New York, and New England over the course of 12-18 months, with opportunities to engage in conversation and additional virtual content between sessions.
There will be two cohorts of training for most regions. Applications for the first set of courses will open in early spring 2024; courses will start their first sessions in the summer of 2024, and wrap up in 2025. The second set of courses will start their first sessions in 2025 and finish in 2026. Dates and locations will be announced shortly!

What makes this in-person training uniquely valuable?

Through this in-person training, you will have direct access to high-level trainers who can answer your questions. You will also have the opportunity to build a cohort with 30-35 participants, facilitators, and speakers who share your interest in soil health and have unique expertise and experience to share with the group. Our trainers have experience building relationships among their trainee cohorts that last long after the training.

How much will the training cost?

For selected participants (farmers, and some ag service providers) there is no fee for the training! We look forward to collaborating with you on scaling up soil health adoption! AFT will provide travel stipends for selected participants taking part in the full course ($4,000, or $1000/session). Selected participants who successfully develop, submit, and start to report on their soil health implementation plan will receive an additional $1,000 stipend at the completion of the training. After the training, selected participants will have the opportunity to become active soil health advisors with our project, who will then be compensated for their time in implementing their plans, developing their farmer-mentor network, enrolling farmers in project opportunities, and providing technical assistance to implement soil health management systems, and sharing with us about the impact your network is having. 

How can I apply?

We are looking forward to receiving your application! Please apply at this link. Please note that the application may open for different regions at different times – you are welcome to apply at any time, and we will contact you when training for your region becomes available.

The application consists of short multiple-choice questions and longer free-write questions, so we recommend you set aside about 30 minutes to complete it. We will follow up with all promising candidates and may contact them for a phone interview and/or reference checks.

What topics will the training cover?

The training program will cover technical soil health knowledge, practical guidance on how to implement systems of practices in your region, and how to build successful farmer networks. Topics will be covered through a combination of presentations and exercises in the classroom, visits from guest speakers, and field days at local leading farms successfully using soil health practices. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to learn from the others in your participant cohort, selected for their potential to be influencers for soil health adoption in their communities. The training and tools made available will facilitate participants engaging in joint problem-solving and learning from each others’ challenges, successes, and opportunities. The curriculum will include modules on:

Soil health principles:

  • Intro to soil health and soil function
  • Soil health management principles
  • Soil biology and habitat
  • Key indicators of soil health

Soil health practices (including examples from farm visits):

  • Cover crop management
  • No-till/strip-till/mulch-till
  • Adaptive nutrient management, integrated weed and pest management
  • Precision technology
  • Other practices applicable to your region and cropping system and the adaptation of practices to each other for an effective system

Creating soil health management plans:

  • Creating and implementing soil health management systems
  • Adapting nutrient and pest management in a soil health management system(SHMS)
  • Writing a soil health implementation plan to create and support peer-to-peer networks to catalyze broader adoption

Social and economic considerations

  • Protecting farmland through conservation easements
  • Economics of Soil Health Practice Adoption
  • Dealing with financial barriers to practice implementation
  • Effective communication to build peer-to-peer networks

Why is mentorship so key to this program?

There is no replacement for the experience! Since each soil and geography is unique, each farm needs specialized recommendations that are adapted to conditions on the ground.  Making practices work for your farm and/or the farms of the peers/farmers you advise requires examples from similar farms and farmers who have already made mistakes, learned, adapted, and succeeded.  Our goal in creating this program is to give you the tools, to enable you to better coach farmers through the inevitable hurdles that come up and to help them develop management plans that are adapted to their circumstances.

Meet the Leading Agricultural Education Professionals Leading this Training

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