Kansas Corn

Soil Health Partnership

An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the Soil Health Partnership is an innovative long-term research effort that aims to show U.S. farmers how sustainability through soil health can also lead to increased profitability. Kansas Corn farmers support SHP with their checkoff dollars through the Kansas Corn Commission and with their support of NCGA.


On-Farm Engagement

Farmers enrolled in the program work alongside Kansas Field Manager, Keith Byerly to conduct field trials to compare soil health practices to traditional field management. On the state level, the Kansas Corn Commission funds the work of Dr. Chuck Rice at K-State Research and Extension for additional research.

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Data & Science

Measuring soil nutrients and other soil health indicators has been a key part of the SHP mission from the beginning. SHP is building an in-depth data set to learn more about the relationship between soil health practices, soil health management systems, environmental quality and quantity, and farm economics.

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Communication & Outreach

The insights gained from on-farm trials provide farmers with tools to make the best decisions for their farms. The in-person and online SHP communities collaborate to spark adoption of soil health practices that benefit the farmers and consumers.

What Kansas Farmers Say . . .

Meet Field Manager Keith Byerly


Keith Byerly is a field manager for the Soil Health Partnership covering Kansas and Nebraska. He graduated with a degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in 2001 and has been a Certified Crop Advisor since 2002.

Keith spent the last 18 years working for a cooperative that served multiple states out of Nebraska. For 15 years, he has been a Precision Ag Manager focusing on data services, prescriptions, and hardware.

Raised on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, Keith holds a special appreciation for soil, groundwater, and irrigation management. He now resides with his wife and their two children on an acreage near his wife’s hometown of Bloomfield, Nebraska. Keith joined the Soil Health Partnership in 2019.

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Meet Dr. Chuck Rice

Dr. Chuck Rice is a Soil Microbiology profession at Kansas State University where he works alongside the Soil Health Partnership in Kansas with a Graduate Student who helps to advance the soil sciences field.

Dr. Rice specializes in soil microbiology, carbon cycling and climate change. Dr. Rice also serves on the Soil Health Partnership Scientific Advisory Committee where he helps lead integration, sustainability and precision management incentives.

On-Farm Trials

In the Soil Health Partnership, each farmer gets the chance to choose what they would like to study and learn more about on their operations. Some farmers have been using cover crops for years, but are looking to learn more from the data and to have to opportunity to learn more from other farmers enrolled in the program. On the other hand, some farmers are looking for guidance and help to get started.

Guetterman Trial

Location: Bucyrus, Kansas

Farm: Guetterman Brothers Family Farms

Trial: 60 acre, strip trial testing the long term benefits of cover crops in terms of improving soil structure, moisture retention and erosion.

Year in SHP: 3rd year

Hayden has been using cereal rye following corn and a multiple species cover crop blend into soybeans, inter-seeding them both. Before joining the Soil Health Partnership, they struggled with developing a cover crop following soybeans and with the high amount of erosion in Eastern Kansas.

SHP has helped their operation by helping them understand that data they have been gathering as well as finding the answers to things they are seeing in the data and helping them find solutions.

Learn more by clicking here.

2019 Guetterman Field Day

Knopf Trial

Location: Gypsum, Kansas

Farm: Knopf Farms

Trial: Cover crop strip trial following wheat harvest with goals of learning more about improving yields, soil biology and grain production.

Year in SHP: 1st year

Justin will be using an 8-species warm season blend after wheat harvest. Although, they have have been using cover crops for a whole, they are hoping with this system, they can learn more about the whole system benefit.

The Soil Health Partnership has helped the farm to monitor the metrics and provides that data to back up what they are seeing out in the fields. Due to the operations location, resilience is also a key aspect in improving yields, by building more nutrient dense soil while being able to overcome the weather changes, they are hoping that the soil health with begin to have a bigger impact on yields.

Learn more by clicking here.

Dig into the Basics

The Dos and Don't of Soil Sampling

Soil sampling can be a great step in the pursuit of healthier soils, but it is not always easy to get soil sampling right. The correct procedures yield the best data, and the best data helps farmers achieve the healthiest soil.

But how do you get the best data?

Dr. Nick Ward of Ward Laboratories, Inc. helped farmers understand how to best sample soils on their farm in an April 28 Soil Health Partnership (SHP) Soil Sessions webinar, “Quality in, quality out: the Dos and Don’ts of Soil Sampling.”

Most importantly, Dr. Ward reminds farmers that data is knowledge. The data available from proper soil sampling can impact future fertilizer applications, environmental compliance, diagnosis of problems, and overall sustainability. The question is not should I sample my soils, but how can I best sample my soils.

“You can’t make good decisions without data,” he said.

Farmers have numerous opportunities to make specific choices about how they will collect the soil data from their farms. Soil sample depths vary. Some farmers work from a 0-6” depth and some from a 0-8” depth. Dr. Ward teaches that “constant depth is the most critical thing when we’re out soil sampling.”

Whatever depth you choose, just be sure to be consistent throughout the field and year over year to provide the best data. And when you are thinking about testing before or after tillage, just remember that consistent depth is paramount, so sample the same every year in a way that you feel most confident you are achieving a consistent depth.

Soil sample locations can vary. Many farmers chose to sample in a grid pattern, taking the samples where the lines of the grid overlap. This allows for the sampling of the same exact location over time in order to pinpoint changes in the soil, but some farmers choose to sample more heavily in certain zones or problem areas. Still, other farmers composite sample their fields, meaning they select the areas of the field to sample at random.

“Composite sampling should be doable for just about everybody,” Ward said. “Grid sampling is the most intensive practice, but it’s going to give us our most robust data set to make decisions from.”

Your soil health strategy should inform the decisions you make for how and where to sample. The most important reminder is to always be consistent.

How often should you sample? It will depend on your sampling strategy, says Ward.

“If you do something more intense like multiple zones or a grid sample, maybe doing that every 3-4 years would be a good practice.  But if you are not going to build a dense data set spatially across your field, maybe it is more important to take a dense data set in time.  So, that’s sampling a composite every year in different spots.”

This one-hour webinar will answer many questions and help farmers really nail down the sampling strategies that could work for their farms and soil health goals, as well as guide them with the return on investment for the effort.

By SHP Staff, see article here.

Cover Crops: Where Do I Start?

Cover crops are an effective tool to improve soil health. Cover crops can reduce loss of excess nitrogen and phosphorus, reduce erosion, build up or recycle nutrients, assist with weed control and provide forage or grazing. However, implementing cover crops should not be taken lightly and requires lots of planning, adjusting and typically requires a total management shift and rethinking the entire cropping system.

As we discussed in a previous blog, when it comes to implementing cover crops, much depends on the risks a farmer is willing to take and the time they can dedicate to managing a cover crop. Implemented properly, cover crops are a great tool for farmers looking to improve soil health on their farms.

Below are a few things to consider when getting started with cover crops:

  • Set goals for the cover crop. Taking up excess nutrients, forage and breaking up compaction are just a few possible goals.
  • Consult the experts. Cover crops are not viable in all growing regions, but use the resources available to see if it can work on your farm. SHP Field Managers are eager to help implement new soil health practices.
  • Be patient. There is a learning curve with any change in farm practices.  Be flexible and prepared to make adjustments as necessary.
  • Tillage typically becomes less desirable unless strip tillage is being used, especially in corn and soybean cropping systems.
  • Scout your cover crop fields. If you are not already getting out there, make sure to check-in on these fields. Changing your farming system can bring new challenges as well as improvements in the field, so you will want to be out there to see changes when they happen.
  • Adjustments will potentially need to be made, including the timing of nutrient application and adjustments to the planter.
  • Talk to other farmers in the area that have experience with cover crops on their farm. Learn about what works well for them, and what has not worked as well. While each farm is unique, it is valuable to learn from peers.

To ensure success with cover crops establish goals, be detail oriented, be open to making adjustments, scout often and think about the cropping system as a whole when making decisions.

By Iowa Field Manager Lisa Kubik, see article here.

SHP Dives Deeper into Soil Health Testing

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) takes soil sampling and testing very seriously. SHP administers higher resolution grid samples, pulls more depths of soil, and dives deeper into soil health testing than most agronomy specialists. We can do so because this is the focus of our team: giving farmers more data to help make long-term management decisions.

Over our five-year program, we measure and record visual observations through crop scouting and measuring and recording soil properties that can only be understood through soil testing. Typical trials that occur on-farm usually only measure yield. This is where the uniqueness of the SHP program begins to shine. SHP goes more in-depth with the annual soil sample and the bi-annual soil health samples.

What does SHP measure?

  • Chemical Soil Sampling: SHP does these tests in much higher resolutions than most agronomy specialists. For most soil samples, you are looking at a zone sample or 2.5 acre grid. Within our research, we are studying these same soil characteristics at a 1-acre grid sample resolution, or even smaller. Most test replicated plots are not this large either. With the larger plot size and higher resolution, we are afforded the opportunity to generate more data and observations throughout every growing season.
  • Soil Health Testing: This is where SHP invests more time and goes more in-depth than most trials. SHP looks at soil health on each strip in Partner Fields, usually eight strips per field. We continually track aggregate stability, water infiltration, active carbon, different soil proteins, soil respiration and more. Many farmers are not currently doing soil health tests. More often than not, growers do not know that these kinds of tests exist, what they do, or how to use the data. They require more time and are more labor-intensive to acquire than periodical soil testing. These tests and findings typically do not drive annual decisions, but builds a data set over time. Soil health practices provide long term information on adapting inputs and making amendments to soil and management practices.

Results from these tests are reviewed with SHP on a consultation-based approach. It is not about the here and now. Soil health testing requires a different cadence than the annual cycle that most of us are accustomed to in farming.

Together, we must stay focused for the long term, to not only make sure we acquire the information on soil health annually but also that we know what to do with the information that is collected. Soil health data is beneficial to review each year to understand the ebb and flow of your field, but annual management changes should not be driven by the data.

By Keith Byerly, see article here.

Listening to our land through Plant Tissue Testing

Today, we are more in tune with listening to what is going on around us than we were 20 years ago. This is particularly true when it comes to our fields. Whether it has been the wide adoption of soil sampling, yield monitors, or even the advent of infield sensors like moisture probes, we have come a long way in learning how to listen to the messages that our fields give us. These messages (or our willingness to listen to these messages) have unlocked a lot of yield for us in these last 20 years, as we have seen the average corn yield in the U.S. go from 140 to 170 plus bushels per acre. But for a majority of growers, I can think of another area that we could be listening to more: plant tissue testing.

When it comes to fertility testing, soil health, or any other test we do in our fields, we are taking a “picture” of what is happening at a moment in time. In the case of a soil sample that is taken in the fall, we know that there are nutrients in the residue that will not show up on that soil test, but if we take it in April, it will be a different set of results. In general, we accept this as part of the process. The same is true with plant tissue testing. Plant nutrient levels can and often do change based on plant maturity, the part of the plant sampled, the hybrid or variety, and even the weather we have in the hours and days leading up to the test.

For me, I look at plant tissue tests in one of two ways. It is either to monitor the health of the plant for a specific set of parameters, or it is to look at the health of the plant to  diagnose a problem within the plant.

Today, I feel like most growers that use plant tissues are testing solely as a diagnostic tool, akin to going to the doctor. I know I only am going to go to the doctor if I am sick. When I do go, I want answers right now. I also want a course of action or medicine to cure the problem. Many growers and agronomists apply that line of thinking directly to tissue samples. We go take tissue samples if the crop has poor color, is weak, or is struggling. Then, we look to that single test for answers and action.

I challenge you to think of a different course of treatment. I know my physician would be quick to say that, while important, the doctor’s visit when ill should not make up the entire health care plan. An annual physical can help be proactive and take care of little things before they become big things. That is where the monitoring potential of plant tissue testing unlocks additional, and perhaps greater, value.

Sampling at predetermined times and intervals identifies deficiencies, excesses, issues and successes in time to “take action” if needed to help reach yield goals and manage economic risks. Again, it is a bit like an annual checkup. If you indicate that your plant is at growth stage x, then the lab of your choice will compare the values of your plant with their standards (universities and private labs have their own values, and they differ slightly from one to another) and advise how healthy the plant is or if there are indicators that raise concern. Late-season samples serve as the report card to tell us how well we did getting nutrients from the soil to where they needed to be in the plant. This report card can help identify where we need to focus for upcoming growing seasons.

It is important to remember there is a difference between soil and plant deficiencies. If you are tissue testing once or twice per year, it can be a good idea to take a soil sample and even a soil health sample at the same time and place as the tissue sample to help bring clarity to the process. Not only does it give you soil nutrient baselines at the same time but it can also reveal issues like compaction, insects, nematodes, or other variations from “healthy” soil that could be contributing to the above-ground symptoms that you would miss otherwise.

The real power in any testing, whether soil, soil health, or tissue, is in establishing a cadence. Using the same lab, sampling in the same area, and doing it at the same time each year build a pattern. Once you have a pattern, you can study it to find the answers that you are looking for. Remember, do not be discouraged by having values that are outside of target ranges. It doesn’t mean that you or your trusted advisor are doing a bad job.

Finally, remember that this is a part of tuning the machine that is your ecosystem. Just because you show a deficiency of a micronutrient or an excessive amount of something else, it doesn’t definitively mean to go spray a foliar product or cut a rate in the future. It might mean those things, but it first means to study the system and theorize on your why before you decide on your response.

By Keith Byerly, see article here.

NCGA Celebrate 5 years with the Soil Health Partnership

As the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) looks back on five years with the Soil Health Partnership (SHP), the goals of the founding members was to demonstrate soil health improvements in a way that encourages widespread adoption. By SHP being grower led, we are demonstrating to our peers what works and does not work. Growers are working together to improve their soil health and do so economically.

Soil health is the best way to measure decades of farm management and conservation improvements. Growers have been working to improve water management, erosion, nutrient management, crop protection stewardship, soil tilth, and efficiency for generations. Soil health is the perfect way to show the results of combining those practices together and identifying how it can be economical.

Research and demonstration plots have been successful, and understanding that when techniques move into commercial fields, further tweaking is needed operation by operation. NCGA sought to accelerate that process while being transparent and scientific in the process. By working in production fields, the SHP process shows fellow growers and the public how these improvements can be made.

About seven years ago, NCGA realized we needed to better showcase American growers, our markets, and show that the U.S. corn grower can adopt and adapt new production practices quickly and demonstrate continuous improvement of our greatest resources, our land and soil. We realized we could not do it alone and we needed non-traditional and traditional partners to make that happen. Engaging with pragmatic, goal focused groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy were ideal, while bringing in agronomic expertise from Bayer gave us the final piece of support we needed to build a viable program.

This is only just beginning. SHP is a priority to the NCGA board, and we can’t wait to see where we are in another five years and beyond.

By NCGA, see article here.

Kansas Corn Celebrates Sustainability with the Soil Health Partnership

To celebrate Earth Day earlier this week, Kansas Corn is taking time to recognize the conservation and soil health measures being taken by Kansas farmers enrolled in the Soil Health Partnership. Farmers are exploring new ways to keep their soils healthy and farms running for generations to come.

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP), is a farmer-led initiative that promotes the adoption of soil health practices for economic and environmental benefit. SHP is committed to find the risks and benefits of soil health practices by collecting on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of soil health practices on the soil, the environment, and the farmer’s bottom line.

Spreading across 16 states, SHP has the potential to impact a large group of America’s farmers and continues to help them build a peer-to-peer network. While creating these connections, participating farmers are also  while working alongside experienced regional Field Managers to conduct field trials to measure soil health indicators.

“By joining the Soil Health Partnership, I thought it would open the door for not only our farm, but for our area farmers that also practice notill and are looking into cover crops,” says Hayden Guetterman, a SHP farmer from Miami County.  “It opens the door to bring on-farm research in, show the benefits cover crops are doing in this area, and how they can better the soil health and limit soil erosion to increase better soils.”

The main motive for Guetterman to join SHP was to find out more data specific information about their farm and learn about new practices that could benefit the operation. SHP provided the resources to collect and analyze the data that helps make informed decisions about soil health practices.

When a field manager first comes on to an operation, farmers are asked to identify what goals they would like to focus on. Often times, when farmer has a specific goal in mind, one cover crop typically will achieve the goal of a producer but will also help with many other issues they might be seeing.

“What the Soil Health Partnership is doing is they’re trying to get data,” Guetterman says.“Through soil samples, satellite imagery, and yield data, they are  trying to decipher all of that andget a measurement of how we can go out and take soil samples in our fields and know how much fertilizer is there. They are also trying to get the data on how the cover crops are improving our soils by developing fertility sampling procedures to measure how cover crops are increasing soil health.”

By measuring soil macronutrients, micronutrients and other health indicators, SHP is working to learn more about the relationship between soil health practices, soil health management systems, and farm economics.

See article here.

National Wheat Foundation Partners with Soil Health Partnership

As the third largest cash crop in the US, wheat farmers have a major influence on our farm economy and our environment. That’s why the Soil Health Partnership partnered with the National Wheat Foundation, made possible by the generous support of General Mills, to establish three additional wheat-focused sites across Kansas and Minnesota for the 2020 growing season giving SHP a total of six wheat-focused sites in our network. This represents growers who have spring wheat or winter wheat as part of their farms’ crop rotation. These operations often have an extended cropping rotation, meaning it is typical for a crop to be planted every three to five years.

SHP is dedicated to understanding how grower’s with a wheat cash crop can impact their soil health and productivity. Areas with a significant amount of wheat grown as a cash crop often have a different growing season length or annual rainfall when compared to the heart of the corn belt, which is where a bulk of the soil health research has been traditionally conducted.

Establishing wheat sites allows SHP to start evaluating the impacts of diversified crop rotations and how wheat can benefit the soil and other environmental indicators. Often the wheat growers we work with have wheat in their rotation but also other crops such as sorghum, sunflowers, and peas. We will start collecting data to evaluate the impact on soil health as a result of these very diverse crop rotations.

There are many management benefits to having wheat as a part of the crop rotation. One benefit is having an early season window to plant cover crops after wheat harvest. For example, in a standard corn and soybean rotation, harvest is in early to late fall, making fall cover crop establishment a challenge. If a late harvest occurs, the cover crop planting window is even smaller. Harvesting wheat in mid to late summer opens up new opportunities for cover crop establishment.

Three SHP wheat sites were established in 2019; two in Kansas and one in Minnesota. In 2020, SHP Field Managers will work together to use learnings from these initial research sites to create a wheat specific SHP strategy. This will include expert advice from a working group made up of leaders in wheat science to help our program to evolve to provide the most valuable data back to our wheat growers.

By SHP Field Managers, see article here.