It’s a modest start, but it looks like there’s a push under way to get the message about the benefits of no-till practices and soil health into high school and college classrooms.
I’m told that Western Illinois University (WIU) is in the early stages of developing a “soil health education in-service” program for its ag teachers, and with the encouragement of Baker No-Till Ltd. founder and CEO John Baker, there’s also discussion of organizing a course for low-disturbance, no-till agriculture.
Scott Jones of MidWest Grass & Forage in Macomb, Ill., says presentations given this year by NRCS educators Barry Fisher and Candy Thomas before college and high school ag educators in Illinois went over very well. The talks included the well-known no-till slake and rainfall simulation demonstrations and soil permeability test, and a brief overview of the NRCS’ emphasis on soil health improvement.
“It was a mind-altering experience, I think,” Jones says of the reaction to the talks. ““They had no idea what the benefits of no-till are in terms of soil stability and hydrology, and how soil permeability changes with no-tilled soils. It’s very evident from these three presentations that there’s very little acknowledgement in agricultural instruction in the state of Illinois of what soil health means.”
With the help of a $200,000 grant, NRCS agronomist Mike Kucera and a small group of colleagues have already spent the last several years designing a soil health curriculum for educators, Scott says, and they’re in the process of trying to get it implemented at schools in surrounding states.
Scott believes there is little or no educational activity like this at high schools or colleges in the Corn Belt, but it’s needed. “Through these presentations it’s become evident to me if we’re going to take soil health improvement to the next level, along with no-till agriculture, we have to educate kids in high school and colleges today,” he says. “The 800-pound gorilla in the room is tillage, and until we address that issue and make soil health job No. 1 for worldwide ag, we will continue down the slippery slope of depleting soils and losing ag productivity.”
Scott hopes WIU can, with the proper tweaks, use the Nebraska lesson plans as a base to launch educational programs for ag professors, possibly for the 2018-19 school year, but definitely by the following academic year.
Editors here for a long time have questioned whether concepts of no-till and soil health are ever mentioned in high school or college ag programs. Hopefully this broad-based effort is a sign that these worthy topics will get the attention they deserve.