A South Dakota native will help farmers in her home state improve the health of their soil and assist them in determining which practices are best suited for their farms.
The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) has hired Maddy Rabenhorst as field manager for South Dakota, with funding support from South Dakota Corn, NRCS South Dakota and SHP. Field managers help farmers get started in a soil health program. They help set up test strips and soil sampling, answer questions about farming techniques and help organize field days.
Rabenhorst comes to the partnership after working as a precision ag manager for a cooperative. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2016 with a major in agronomy and a minor in insect pest management. She is working toward a master’s degree in agronomy through Iowa State University’s distance learning program. She and her husband, Bryce, farm near Salem.
Rabenhorst said she’s excited to be part of an organization that focuses on helping farmers with good, realistic, reliable data.
“I really wanted a job that focuses solely on helping farmers achieve what they need. I wanted to have that direct relationship with a farmer to be able to help him be successful,” she said. “I like that this is large research that has reliable data we can use to help other farmers.”
Rabenhorst considers the research large because each test strip will encompass four widths of a combine head. There will be four treated and four untreated strips on a farm, so the total test area will range from 20 to 80 acres. That size is significant enough to show the benefits of a certain practice, whether it’s no-till, strip till or cover crops.
Farmers who sign up for the program will commit to a five-year contract. The program pays for soil sampling and provides a stipend for farmers to implement soil-health practices on their farms. Each farmer can choose what type of practice he or she wants to use, including the type of cover crop mixture. Rabenhorst said information collected from all of the farms will be used to build a valuable database.
“I really, truly believe in order for us to be sustainable, we need to get back to building our soils and protecting our resources,” she said. “We need to think about, as producers, how we’re going to be here in 30, 40, 50 years.”
The SHP also recently hired a lead scientist and a program coordinator. The lead scientist is Maria Bowman, who worked as an economist for the USDA’s Economic Research Service. In addition to leading the scientific and data plan for SHP, she will provide oversight of scientific progress of various projects.
As program coordinator, Stacey Stiens organizes and oversees the partnership’s many events, assists with program communication and supports customer relationship management. A graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she has 12 years of experience in planning and implementing educational activities, programs and events.
Shefali Mehta, SHP’s executive director, said the expertise and enthusiasm that Rabenhorst, Bowman and Stiens bring will be an asset to the program.
“As we build our organization, our priority remains ensuring that our enrolled farmers have the support they need to adopt practices that promote soil health, manage the SHP test plots, and help us in the critical process of data collection and insights generation,” Mehta said. “The Soil Health Partnership project has the potential to create powerful change in agriculture, and our very foundation is substantive data collection and comprehensive analysis.”
Rabenhorst expects to expand the program into North Dakota where SHP is growing its incorporation of wheat farms with support from General Mills and the National Wheat Foundation.
An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the Soil Health Partnership works closely with diverse organizations including commodity groups, industry, foundations, federal agencies, universities and well-known environmental groups toward common goals.
The farmer-led initiative fosters transformation in agriculture through improved soil health, benefiting both farmer profitability and the environment. With more than 140 working farms enrolled in 14 states, the SHP tests, measures and advances progressive farm management practices that will enhance sustainability and farm economics for generations to come.
SHP brings together broad and diverse partners to work toward common goals. Administered by the National Corn Growers Association, the SHP’s vision is driven by initial and continuing funding and guidance from the NCGA, Bayer, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, The General Mills Foundation, Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, National Wheat Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Pisces Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.