Clemson Soil Health Conference 2019

“Building Soil Health: Principles, Practices, and Profitability”

A Full Day Conference for Farmers, Scientists, Extension Agents, and Ag Service Providers
October 28th 2019

With special extended programming “Tools for Teaching Soil Health” for Extension Personnel and Ag Service Providers on October 29th 2019
Madren Conference Center & Inn
Clemson University


This Conference is being organized by the Clemson Sustainable Agriculture Program in collaboration with Clemson Extension, the University of South Carolina and stakeholder organizations with support from the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture (SARE) Program. The Conference objectives are to 1) Discuss new scientific discoveries that inform the latest recommendations to build health soil; 2) Hear from farmers who have implemented innovative approaches for building a resilient system; 3) Engage with farmers, Extension personnel and other ag professionals to address soil health challenges and opportunities; 4) Provide tools for teaching soil health for agriculture professionals who work with farmers.

During this conference soil health experts will provide an historical perspective on soil health in the U.S. and discuss critical components of soil health management including basic soil health principles, biology of regenerative soils, and new indicators of soil health. It will feature breakout sessions on specific soil health management practices for livestock, row crop and horticultural producers, and conclude with a facilitated discussion on the economics of soil health.

Day Two of the conference will offer special extended programming on “Tools for Teaching Soil Health”, for Extension agents and other agriculture professionals who work with farmers. Sessions will include a panel discussion with soil health experts on teaching soil health to farmers, overviews of various soil health testing methods and indicators, and hands-on demonstrations of on-farm activities that can be used for teaching soil health.

*A total of 8 CEUs will be offered for registered Certified Crop Advisors for participating in this event.  See Continuing Education tab for more information.


    Agenda for day one of Soil Health Conference

    7:30 – 8:30


    8:30 – 9:00

    Welcome - Dr. Paula Agudelo, Clemson Experiment Station Director
    Introduction - Geoff Zehnder, Sustainable Agriculture Program Coordinator
    USDA SARE Program Support - Candace Pollack-Moore, Southern SARE Coordinator

    9:05 – 10:05

    Back to The Future: A Historical Perspective on Soil Health
    Gail Fuller - Fuller Farms, Emporia, KS

    A look at where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed in the soil health movement. 

    10:10 - 11:10

    Principles of Soil Health: Is No-till Enough?
    Nathan Lowder, NRCS Soil Health Division - USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
    Soil erosion is a powerful force on agricultural lands across this nation. It has and continues to degrade one of our great natural resources. No-till makes good strives to keep the soil in place yet we still are faced with the battle against soil erosion, lack of diversity and non-functioning soils. So, we will look at symptoms and more importantly identify the cause and how producers can adopt soil health planning principles to implement a complete soil health management system to regain function in their soils.

    11:15 – 12:15

    Biology of Regenerative Soils
    Dr. Kris Nicols - Soil Microbiologist, KRIS Systems Education & Consultation
    Soil genesis and physical and biological processes will be discussed from a biological foundation. The relevance of soil organic matter, fertility, and porosity in regenerative systems will be summarized.

    12:15 – 1:15

    Lunch with locally sourced foods

    1:15 – 2:15

    Indicators: How to Evaluate Soil Health
    Dr. Ray Ward - Ward Laboratories Inc

    Many crop growth problems are soil related.  After years of evaluating soil health based on fertility we have expanded testing to include more soil characteristics that are indicators of soil health.  Some indicators involve hands on evaluation and and others laboratory tests; both of which will be discussed.

    2:20 – 3:45

    Commodity Breakout Sessions: Specific Production Strategies for Managing Soil Health in Livestock, Horticulture, & Row Crops

    Breakout Session A - Soil Health Practices in Livestock Operations
    Panel discussion with livestock farmers successfully implementing soil health practices in their operations. Don Jackson, Gail Fuller, and Reed Edwards.  Moderator: Nathan Lowder
    Breakout Session B - Soil Health Practices in Horticulture Operation
    Panel discussion and Q&A with diversified vegetable farmers successfully implementing soil health practices in their operations. Nat Bradford, Will Metts, and Nick Pettit. Moderator: Steve Diver
    Breakout Session C - Soil Health Practices in Row Crop Operations
    Panel discussion and Q&A with row crop producers successfully implementing soil health practices in their operations. Carl Coleman, Leon Dueck, Doug Newton, and Jason Carter.  Moderator: Gordon Mikell

    3:45 – 4:30

    Adaptation vs. Adoption: Dealing With the New Normal
    Loran Steinlage - FLOLOfarms, West Union, IA
    Variability is the new normal. The real lesson is the need to be nimble and continue to adapt in a ever changing environment.

    4:35 – 5:30

    Panel Discussion: Economics of Transitioning to Improved Soil Health Practices
    Hear from farmers and researchers about realistic expectations for improving your bottom line while implementing soil health practices.  Panel includes: Gail Fuller, Nathan Lowder, Kris Nicols, Ray Ward, Steve Diver, Jason Carter, Loran Steinlage, and Don Jackson.  Moderator: Buz Kloot


    Conference Wrap-up - Geoff Zehnder

    5:30 – 7:30 PM

    Post Conference Networking Social
    Conference attendees and speakers are invited to stay and network with one another.  Music and food included.  Alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.

    Agenda for day two of Soil Health Conference
    DAY 2: "Tools for Teaching Soil Health" for Extension Agents & Ag Professionals

    7:00 - 8:00


    8:00 - 8:10


    8:15 – 9:45

    Communicating with Growers: Panel Discussion
    Ray Ward, Kris Nicols, Nathan Lowder, Gail Fuller, Steve Diver, Loran Steinlage; Moderator: Buz Kloot 

    • How to initiate and conduct conversations with growers about adopting soil health practices
    • Communicating complex information in a straightforward way
    • Addressing questions about costs and benefits with growers
    • When meeting time is short, what information should be prioritized

    9:50 – 11:20

    How to Measure and Test for Soil Health: There are options!
    Ray Ward, Buz Kloot

    • Introduction and overview of available soil tests
    • Interpreting test results from a variety of tests
    • Translating test results into grower recommendations
    • Considering different soil types/regions

    11:20 – 11:40

    What tools are available?  Web Resources, Organizations, and Social Media  

    11:45 – 12:45







    12:45 – 4:30

    Hands on Activities: Techniques for In-field Assessment of Soil Health


    • Seminar Room: Using Web Soil Survey and SoilWeb App For Soils Data (Lacy Adams)
    • STATION A: Soil Microscopy (Steve Diver)
    • STATION B: "Soil Your Undies" Demo (Gabe Kenne)
    • STATION C: 24 hr CO2-C Burst or Soil Respiration using Solvita Paddles (Dr. Buz Kloot)
    • STATION D: Aggregate Stability Test (Dr. Kris Nichols)



    • Rainfall Simulator; whole group demonstration (Kirsten Robertson)
    • Water Infiltration Test (Kris Nicols)
    • Hands-On Soil Evaluation (Gail Fuller)
    • "Walk the Field" Assessment (Nathan Lowder)

Dr. Ray WardDr. Ray Ward is president and co-owner of Ward Laboratories, Inc. He is ARCPACS certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) and certified Soil Scientist (CPSS) with a PhD in Soil Fertility, South Dakota State University 1972. He has BS and MS degrees from University of Nebraska 1959 and 1961. Before founding Ward Laboratories, Inc in Kearney he served as lab division manager of Servi-Tech, Inc in Dodge City, KS; Associate Professor at Oklahoma State University; and Assistant Professor and Instructor at South Dakota State University. He holds numerous memberships in scientific and honorary academic societies and organizations. Ray has received many awards including the Soil Science Industry Award and Soil Science Professional Service Award from Soil Science Society of America in 2005 and 2007, respectively. He received the J. Benton Jones, Jr. Award that was presented to him at the 12th International Symposium on Soil and Plant Analysis, Chania, Greece, June 9, 2011. He received the Henry Beachell Distinguished Alumni Award from the Nebraska Ag Alumni 2016. His goals for agriculture and agronomy are to help production agriculture use its resources as efficiently as possible, to provide information and data for developing soil health for the best use of soil and water resources while maintaining environmental quality, to be involved in “value-added” agriculture and to provide accurate laboratory data for managing productions enterprises.

Dr. Kris NicolsDr. Kris Nichols is a leader in the movement to regenerate soils for healthy crops, food, people and a planet. She is the founder and principal scientist of KRIS (Knowledge for Regeneration and Innovation in Soils) Systems Education & Consultation and a sub-contractor with Pachaterrae and will begin working as the Chief Scientist with Pachaterrae Inc. in summer 2019. She is also working with Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, on a project combining Regenerative Agriculture and Renewable Energy (RARE) to reduce the economic risks in transitioning to regenerative agriculture. Kris also participates on a Regenerative Agriculture Advisory Board with General Mills, a Non-GMO Supply Chain Working Group with Green America, and on the Advisory Board for the Real Organic Project. Her current focus is to address current and future agricultural needs by building upon a soil health foundation to identify biological methods for agricultural production and tools and practices to reduce pest issues, soil erosion, fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. These systems are resilient and adapt to climatic uncertainty by increasing nutrient and water use efficiencies; improving pollinator activity and food security; and providing long-term solutions to agricultural economic viability, food insecurity, and the loss of ecosystem services. Kris continues to develop and evolve methodology and tools farmers, home-owners, and students may use to examine and appreciate their soil. Her work on carbon movement from plant to microbes and nutrient and water cycling have led her to also expand her research into exploring the similarities between the soil and gut microbiomes to improve soil and animal including human health.

Nathan LowderNathan Lowder was raised on a dairy farm in southern Stanly County in NC. In 1996 the farm transitioned to a beef cattle and row crop farming enterprise. He attended college at NCSU and graduated in 2003 with a B.S. Agricultural Environmental Technology after which he started fulltime employment with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Through the past 16 years with NRCS he has worked across the state of North Carolina as a Student Trainee, Soil Conservationist, and District Conservationist while working with producers to address resource concerns on their farming operations and efforts to improve soil health. He now works with the NRCS National Soil Health Division covering Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Puerto Rico promoting soil health principles to producers, so they may improve soil health on their operations. Nathan continues to enjoy farming with my family while implementing the use of mixed species covers and no-till on cropland and pastureland in his family operation and providing insights and training on ways to improve soil health across the nation.

Gail FullerGail Fuller, owner of Fuller Farms in Emporia, Kansas,  has been experimenting with no-till since the mid-1980's and has been 100% since 1995. The further he gets into his journey, the more regenerating soil health has become his main focus. “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” (FDR) is one of his favorite quotes and one he lives by. He has learned the way to build soil is through biodiversity. He believes diversity, both above and below ground, are key to growing healthy soil. Besides annual cover crops he uses companion crops and perennial cover crops. When it comes to livestock, again, diversity is key. He uses cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and ducks to graze his covers utilizing intensive rotational or “mob” grazing. “The key to no-till is cover, and the key to covers is livestock.” When Gail started looking into what it would mean for his family farm to be ecologically regenerative, he found himself learning the science behind soil life, photosynthesis, and the carbon, mineral and water cycles. He also started finding direct correlations between the health of the soil and his own health. His exploration led him to organize an annual "Field School" that draws speakers and guests from around the world to share the latest knowledge on regenerative agricultural practices. For Gail, Regenerative Agriculture is not just regenerating soil, but the (re)growing of communities. This includes human, wildlife, and microbial communities. Helping to make them stronger and more resilient.

Loran SteinlageLoran Steinlage is the Owner/Operator of FLOLOfarms with his wife Brenda. He farms 750 acres and another 750 of custom farm in the West Union, Iowa area, and specializes in adapting practices and equipment to their unique area on the edge of the Driftless area. He is evolving to Companion/Relay No-Till cropping system which is focused on cycling plants to keep a living plant in the soil at all times, to help aid in moisture management and weed suppression. Currently producing corn, soybeans, cereal rye, winter wheat, malt barley, and buckwheat.

Steve DiverSteve Diver is the Farm Superintendent at UK’s Horticulture Research Farm in Lexington. Prior to joining the Department of Horticulture, he was a horticultural and soils consultant in Central Texas. Steve is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, where he earned B.S. (1982) and M.S. (1984) degrees in Horticulture. He conducted research on container nursery production as an undergraduate before specializing in fruit and nut production in graduate school, where he studied seasonal changes in elemental concentration in pecan fruit and leaves as well as applied foliar nutrition in pecans. From 1984-1988, he was the Extension Horticulture Agent in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during which time he held dual assignments as the County Agriculture Agent for McIntosh County and then District Horticulturist for 21 counties in Northeast Oklahoma. He left the Extension Service to gain experience managing an organic blueberry farm in the Missouri Ozarks. Thereafter, for the next 18 years, he worked as an Agriculture Specialist with ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, the USDA-funded program managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology. In 2007, he moved to Texas to marry his college sweetheart and work as R&D Scientist with Sustainable Growth Texas, LLC, a soil biology services company with customers ranging from the Texas Department of Transportation to grassfed beef producers, landscape architects, and pecan growers. In 2010, he established an independent firm, Agri-Horticultural Consulting, which provided soil analysis and consultancy services in eco-agriculture, organic and sustainable farming, and environmental sciences to pecan and vineyard growers, vegetable farmers, greenhouse and nursery operators, and government agencies involved in large-scale revegetation projects. 

We are happy to be able to offer an opportunity for Certified Crop Advisors to earn a total of 8 CEUs for participating in this event.  The breakdown is as follows:

Nutrient Management – 2.5 CEUs

  • Indicators: How to Evaluate Soil Health (1 CEU)
  • How to Measure and Test for Soil Health: There are Options! (1.5 CEUs)

Soil and Water Management – 4.5 CEUs

  • Biology of Regenerative Soils (1 CEU)
  • Principles of Soil Health: Is No-Till Enough? (1 CEU)
  • Hands on Activities: Techniques for In-Field Assessments of Soil Health (2.5 CEUs)

Crop Management – 1 CEUs

  • Back to the Future: A Historical Perspective on Soil Health (1 CEU)

Sign in sheets will be available on site or you can download a new app which quickly and easily gets the CEUs from the conference onto your CEU report.  Review the instructions for downloading and using the app: View CEU APP Instructions

“Building Soil Health: Principles, Practices, and Profitability”

A Full Day Conference for Farmers, Scientists, Extension Agents, and Ag Service Providers
October 28th 2019

With special extended programming “Tools for Teaching Soil Health” for Extension Personnel and Ag Service Providers on October 29th 2019
Madren Conference Center & Inn
Clemson University