The second annual BIG Soil Health Event was held in Cedar Falls, IA this year, and did not fail to amaze. More than 400 farmers, ranchers, and ag professionals showed up to learn more about soil health and the real-world implications of our past, present, and future with and without healthy soil. We had the privilege to hear from farmers Adam Chapell, Adam Daugherty, and Russell Hedrick, who are all implementing regenerative ag on their own farms. There was also a farmer panel including some other very knowledgeable farmers who have also been implementing soil health practices on their own farms around the country. We also heard from Rick Haney, Lance Gunderson, Jerry Hatfield, and Erin Meyer who have all dedicated their careers to studying the soil and what it means for farmers, the health of our environment, and the health of humankind. On top of all of these great speakers, we were fortunate to see the Watkins family of Pinhook Farm receive the first Leopold Conservation Award to come to Iowa.
The BIG Soil Health Event this year was truly a win for regenerative ag. In just one year, the event grew by over 100 people. There’s so much excitement growing in this space, and it’s so inspirational to hear from farmers who have seen this work on their farms and transition their farm from survival mode to a thriving operation centered around the soil.
Every one of the speakers had so much to say about their careers and how soil health has shaped that. I just want to focus on just one of them though: Russell Hedrick. Russell is a regenerative farmer from Hickory, NC, and he mostly spoke about his journey on his farm pertaining to soil health. Russell is a first generation farmer who started from scratch, and this year he achieved record-breaking corn yields. Russell hit 459.5 bushels on his field that he enrolled in the North Carolina Corn Grower’s contest, and on other fields he saw higher than 400 bushels per acre. However, Russell didn’t get here in one day. It’s taken a long time for Russell to get his soil health to the level that it can grow 400 bushel corn. His story is an inspiration to all farmers who want to go down the regenerative path.
The key thing that I took away from Russell’s story is that you absolutely can make this work on your farm. We hear a lot of excuses of why not to use cover crops on the farm; I’ve tried covers and they don’t work, it’s just an extra cost that won’t help me, I’m going to have higher input costs, etc. Russell’s farm is proof that this can be successful, and not just to be more profitable, but to do so while maintaining yield or even increasing it to record-breaking levels. One of the most important parts to take away from Russell’s story is that he has made this system work within his context. The principles of soil health work anywhere, but analyzing your specific context (i.e. climate, soil type, partners on the farm, equipment, etc.) is key to unlocking your soil’s potential.