Missouri farmers join national initiative to improve soil health

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CENTRALIA – Six Missouri farms have joined more than a hundred farmers across the U.S. in the Soil Health Partnership, an initiative of the National Corn Growers Association.

The initiative brings together federal agencies, national companies and farmers to work toward a shared goal of improving soil health.

Brian Martin, a farmer from Centralia, joined the initiative this year. The Soil Health Partnership approached him to participate. Martin said it was an honor.

“To be selected and to participate is something that I’m not only passionate about as a producer but as the future of our ag industry to be able to be sustainable, to feed the country,” he said.

Martin has grown corn and soybeans on his own farm since shortly after he started college. Farming is his family trade.

“It’s something that I want to pass down to the future generation,” Martin said. “It’s something that my dad’s doing and my grandfather did and his father before him.”

Martin said he hopes his five-year participation will show, not only sustainability, but also a return on an investment.

“Farming is a way of life, but it’s still a business, and it has to be profitable,” Martin said. “We all want to improve our soil health, but we have to prove it in a way that the rest of the country and operators adopt it in a way that’s sustainable.”

He uses cover crops, a method of planting crops in the fall and winter when there are no cash crops. Darrick Steen, Missouri Soybean Association director of environmental programs, said this is done to make sure something’s always growing to maintain the ecosystem of the soil.

The practice is not new, but it’s not widespread, he said. Fewer farmers use it because of the time and expense from planting and then not being able to sell the crops.

Steen said this project is unique, because it is conducted on private, family-owned farms, rather than typical research or university settings.

“If we’re not focusing on the need of the farmer, then whatever we’re doing may or may not be applicable or helpful,” Steen said.

The partnership also has big names funding and guidance, including Monsanto, the Walton Family Foundation, General Mills and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“They are all involved, because we all share a common vision on this,” Steen said. “There’s a lot of momentum in this space and a lot of desire to move the pendulum forward.”

He said this is a long-term effort and expects to have a rich data set after the five years.

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