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This event, organized by the New York Soil Health project, is for farmers, researchers, agriculture service providers, government agencies, non-profits and policy-makers interested in advancing soil health efforts across the state.

David Montgomery

Geologist, University of Washington

David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. An author of award-winning popular-science books, he has been featured in documentary films, network and cable news, and on a wide variety of TV and radio programs, including NOVA, PBS NewsHour, Fox and Friends, and All Things Considered. He lives in Seattle, with his wife Anne Biklé and their black lab guide-dog dropout Loki.

12:15 pm | Lunch Keynote: Growing a Revolution: Bringing our Soils Back to Life

Presentation Summary

One of the key lessons of history is as simple as it is stark: Societies that degraded their soil failed the test of time. Visits to farmers around the world show how innovative farmers combining ancient wisdom with modern science are at the vanguard of a soil health revolution that could reverse the ancient trend and bring humanity’s ailing soil back to life remarkably fast. Combining ancient practices of cover crops and diversified crop rotations with modern methods of no-till planting cultivates beneficial soil life and allows using far less diesel, fertilizer and pesticide. These practices are good for farmers and the environment. Regenerative practices that build soil organic matter translate into farms that use less water, generate less pollution, and stash carbon underground while using less fossil fuel and agrochemicals to maintaining crop yields, build soil health, and improve farmers’ bottom line.

Patrick Hooker

Deputy Secretary for Food and Agriculture, Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

In May 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo selected Patrick Hooker to serve as a Deputy Secretary of Food and Agriculture.  In this capacity, Pat is the Governor’s liaison to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, as well as the State Liquor Authority. Pat has been involved with agriculture policy his entire career, serving as the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Director of Public Policy for the New York Farm Bureau, the Director of the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee and the Rural Affairs Advisor for the State Assembly Minority Leader. Pat grew up in rural Madison County, working on a neighbor’s dairy farm.  In school, he was active in the Junior Holstein Club, as well as FFA, which he served as State President and received his American Farmer degree.  Pat received his Associate’s degree from Morrisville State College and his Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Education from Cornell University.  Pat and his wife Karen have two grown children, Erika and Mitchell.  Together they own a 350 acre farm in southern Herkimer County where they produce maple syrup.

10:00 am | Welcome Address to the New York Soil Health Summit

David Wolfe

Professor of Plant and Soil Ecology, School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University

David W. Wolfe is Professor of Plant and Soil Ecology in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University, project leader for the New York Soil Health research and outreach program, and author of an award-winning popular science book on soil ecology, Tales From the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life. He is also a leading authority on agricultural climate change adaptation and mitigation, including soil carbon sequestration and monitoring.

10:10 am | Soil Health: Pioneers and Emerging Frontiers 

Presentation Summary

Healthy soils have abundant soil microbial populations that benefit plant nutrition and growth, suppress weeds and pests, and improve soil structure for resilience to drought and flooding. This increases farm profitability and has many environmental co-benefits. We will discuss breakthroughs in soil biology, from Darwin’s study of earthworms, to Waksman’s discovery of streptomycin, to recent research on root-soil microbe interactions. New York is at the forefront of the soil health movement, but constraints to rebuilding soil organic matter by reducing tillage, maximizing plant cover and root activity, and use of organic soil amendments persist. This Summit will gather input from a broad range of stakeholders for a visionary New York Soil Health Roadmap.

Anu Rangarajan

Director, Cornell Small Farms Program


Anu Rangarajan is the State Fresh Market Vegetable Specialist, her research focuses on innovative crop and soil management that balances triple-bottom line goals for growers and society. She alsos direct the Cornell Small Farms Program, with the mission to help farmers get expert assistance at all phases of business development, from start-up to growth to maturity.

10:30 am | Lightning Talk on Vegetable Crop Reduced Tillage Systems

Gregory Peck

Assistant Professor of Horticulture at Cornell University

Dr. Gregory Peck is a pomologist with more than two decades of professional experience working with orchard systems in California, Washington, New York, and Virginia. His research program is designed to support and improve the sustainability, productivity, and profitability of tree-fruit producers. Current projects focus on hard cider production, integrated soil and groundcover management for apple orchards, and improving crop-load management for apple trees through the use of a pollen tube growth model.

10:30 am | Lightning Talks – Research: Soil health for apple orchard systems

Presentation Summary

Current soil health recommendations are based on annual crops that more easily accommodate soil health promoting practices such as cover crops and organic matter additions. However, apple growers typically address soil issues before planting and only apply fertilizers, such as calcium nitrate, in established orchards. Through a series of experiments, I have found that carbon-based amendments, such as compost and mulches can provide sufficient nutrition for apple orchards while also increasing soil health and fostering microbial communities that support plant productivity. In this talk I will address the need to develop soil health recommendations for apple orchards that balance productivity with environmentally-friendly practices.

Johannes Lehmann

Professor, Cornell University

 Johannes Lehmann, professor of soil biogeochemistry and soil fertility management at Cornell University, received his graduate degrees in Soil Science at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. During the past 10 years, he has focused on nano-scale investigations of soil organic matter, the biogeochemistry of pyrogenic carbon and the development of biochar and bioenergy systems. Dr. Lehmann has authored more than 200 journal publications, was named Highly-Cited Researcher by Thomson Reuter in 2014-20017, and is the editor-in-chief of the journal Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems.

10:30 am | Lightning Talk – Research: Upcycling of Dairy Manure as a Marketable Fertilizer

Presentation Summary

Dairy manure increasingly poses a disposal issue due to eutrophication but also pollution of soil and water with antibiotics, hormones and pathogens. At the same time, fertilizer prices are increasing and global phosphate resources are known to be finite. We advanced a technologically feasible approach for safe upcycling of dairy manure to a fertilizer. The manure is pyrolyzed and blended with organic materials to produce a marketable potting mix. In a second approach, we adsorbed ammonia from urine onto highly oxidized biochars and generated a material with 18% nitrogen as a possible fertilizer.

Matt Ryan

Assistant Professor of Sustainable Cropping Systems, Section of Soil and Crop Sciences at Cornell University

Matthew Ryan is an Assistant Professor of Sustainable Cropping Systems in the Section of Soil and Crop Sciences at Cornell University. He works with farmers, students, and other scientists to evaluate cropping system performance in terms of crop yield, profitability, environmental impact, and resilience. Ryan teaches undergraduate students about sustainability, agroecology, and organic farming and he conducts applied research on cover crops, intercropping, weed ecology, and perennial grains.

10:30 am | Lightning Talks – Research: Cover Crop Interseeding and Perennial Grains

Presentation Summary

Protecting soil from erosion is an important first step in regenerating soil health. Cover crops are an effective tool for reducing soil erosion, but they are underutilized. Farmers report that limited time after crop harvest to establish a cover crop before winter is a major constraint. Seeding cover crops into cash crops before they are harvested provides a number of benefits. We are also working on more transformative solutions, including perennial grains that provide year-round soil coverage. On-farm research in New York shows these new crops have potential, but more research is needed to improve performance and facilitate adoption.

Paul Salon

Soil Health Specialist for the northeast region at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Paul Salon, Ph.D. is currently a NE Region Soil Health Specialist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). He has initiated and worked on multiple research, demonstration and education projects on cover crops with collaborators from Cornell, Penn State, the National Soil Survey Lab and ARS. He has organized over 20 workshops on cover crops and soil health at the Big Flats Plant Materials Center and on farms. He has coordinated the Empire Farm Days Soil Health Seminar Center.

11:00 am | Moderator – Grower Panel

Donn Branton

Owner of Branton Farms

Donn Branton and his son Chad farm about 1,500 acres of processing peas, soybeans, sweet corn, grain corn, dry beans, wheat, oats and alfalfa in Le Roy, New York.  Donn has been farming since 1979 and has become a prominent conservation farmer, hosting numerous field days and featured in publications such as No-Till Farmer  and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farmer Profile.

11:00 am | Grower Panel 

Presentation Summary

Donn first transitioned from full tillage to no-till 30 years ago and has since added zone-till, strip-till, cover cropping, nutrient and drainage management to the mix. Although his farm is located in a fertile area some soils are deep while others are very shallow. Therefore a ‘one size fits all’ approach to improving soil health doesn’t always work. He views his farm as an experiment and is constantly changing to improve his bottom line and conservation outcomes. For example, the Brantons have been able to reduce nitrogen applications by half after planting a clover cover crop. They’ve also seen improvement in the number of worms and infiltration of their soils. Ultimately, Donn has stayed with low-till, cover crops, and other practices due to the improvement of the soil, their yields, the environment, and their bottom line.

Jean-Paul Cortens

Owner of Roxbury Farms

Jean-Paul Courtens is a native from the Netherlands.  He is a graduate of Warmonderhof (part of Groenhourst Ag College), specializing in organic and biodynamic farming. He moved to the U.S. in 1986 and founded Roxbury Farm in 1990.  He frequently contributes to educational programs on organic farming and soil health, and has had various roles as a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).

11:00 am | Grower Panel 

Presentation Summary

Roxbury Farm is a 300 acre organic farm, primarily for vegetable crops. Other products include pork, beef, and lamb. We market primarily through an 1100 member CSA in NYC and counties in eastern NY. We have been using winter cover crops for 35 years. Benefits we see are less chronic compaction, less erosion, less nutrient loss, and reduced weed, disease, insect pressure. We use a roller-crimper at end of cover crop season. One challenge is the high price of organic cover crop seed.  We haven’t (moldboard) plowed since 1992, and are now expanding minimum till acreage with purchase of a no-till grain and grass drill. Challenges for weed control with no-till in organic systems will be discussed.

Jeff Williams

Director of Public Policy, New York Farm Bureau

Jeff Williams serves as the Director of Public Policy for New York Farm Bureau, where he is principal lobbyist on all issues impacting agriculture, but specializes in environmental and business legislative and regulatory issues.  Jeff also serves as the Secretary of the FARM NY PAC, New York Farm Bureau’s political action committee. In addition, he is the liaison between New York Farm Bureau and its many Agricultural Alliance association/business members. Prior to working at New York Farm Bureau, Jeff served as legislative aide and advisor to two New York State Senators.

11:50 am | Lightning Talk – Nonprofits: New York Farm Bureau

Presentation Summary

New York Farm Bureau can play a role in linking soil health and political action. Strategies to highlight the importance of soil health for a legislative audience will be discussed – especially urban legislators unfamiliar with agriculture (… and soil).

Register Now!

Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with colleagues and contribute critical feedback to the NY Soil Health Roadmap.

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