Nebraska Soil Health School: A Success Story of Collaboration and Learning

By Nicole Heldt - Research Project Coordinator Maharjan Soils Lab, UNL-PREEC

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) team led by Dr. Bijesh Maharjan, associate professor and extension specialist at Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center (PREEC) in Scottsbluff, launched Nebraska Soil Health School in 2023. The school was envisioned, developed and organized in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). UNL hosted the school at three locations from west to east across Nebraska in 2023. The school was designed to build upon the UNL repository of soil health-related knowledge and share it with stakeholders to develop an understanding of healthy soil for sustainable and productive agriculture. The schools were attended by over 200 producers, agriculture professionals, conservationists, researchers, educators and students from Nebraska, as well as neighboring states.

“Without over 20 presenters from UNL, USDA NRCS and outside the state, the 2023 Soil Health School could not have been possible,” Maharjan said.

This school was conceptualized to travel to places: agencies, institutes and everywhere there is a need for soil health education.  It took place in Bridgeport, North Platte and Concord in 2023. Dr. Jerry Hatfield, retired USDA ARS scientist, kicked off the 2023 Nebraska Soil Health School with his keynote presentation in Bridgeport on March 2.

“Soil health is a hot topic with producers but more importantly, it is with society as well,” Paul Jasa, UNL extension engineer and presenter at the schools said. “There are a lot of people thinking about healthy soil, which gives you healthier crops, healthier food, healthier communities.”

The events included talks and demonstrations covering fundamental soil health principles – physics, carbon cycle and biology; soil health practices – no-till, manure, cover crops, economics, livestock integration and Nebraska research; as well as NRCS’s rapid tests and rainfall simulation. The school evolved as it progressed east to expand an agenda that included a panel discussion at UNL’s West Central Research, Extension and Education Center (WCREEC), research plot tours at UNL’s Haskell Ag Lab and student poster competitions.

“Great information, speakers were all great and I look forward to coming again next year,” an attendee at the final school said.

“Nicole and I are grateful for all the support we received from our colleagues to organize the school this year. Nicolas Cafaro La Menza, WCREEC assistant professor, and Leslie Johnson, UNL Haskell Ag Lab extension educator, were simply wonderful in organizing the event at their respective locations,” Maharjan acknowledged.

The other organizing contributors from UNL were Mitch Stephenson, Saurav Das, Gary Stone, Katja Koehler-Cole, Caro Córdova, Paul Jasa and USDA NRCS’s Aaron Hird.

After a successful trio of events, Nebraska Soil Health School will be advancing educational material as well as incorporating more demonstrations and hands-on activities in 2024.