Soil seminar

 Internationally recognized agroecologist Nicole Masters is the keynote speaker at the 8th Annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum Jan. 24 -25 at the Montrose Pavilion. This year's conference theme is “Synergy of the Soil: Growing Healthy Food.” (Photo courtesy of Louise Johns)

The wildfire catastrophe in Australia is linked to poor soil management, according to Nicole Masters, a soil advocate and agroecologist who works with some of the world’s largest companies and organizations. She and other advocates of regenerative farming believe its principles need to be adopted worldwide to slow the advance of climate change.

“I think the whole world is waking up to the fact of how much we are dealing with in society that comes back to soil. What’s happening in Australia in the big picture is related to the soil. Soil management can alter global conditions, greenhouse gasses, and what drives the climate cycle: water — it should be in the soil, not up in the atmosphere,” said Masters, author of “For the Love of Soil.”

Masters grew up in New Zealand and was a 2012 finalist in the nation’s Rural Business Woman of the Year awards. She spends most her time traveling between conferences and workshops in her native country, Australia, the United States and Canada, teaching regenerative soil practices. She’ll present the keynote speech and a half-day workshop at the 8th Annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum Jan. 24-25 at the Montrose Pavilion.

This year’s conference theme is “Synergy of the Soil: Growing Healthy Food” and several soil experts have been invited to provide an in-depth look at the topic. In addition to soil management and related to it, other presentations will cover crops, livestock, irrigation, nutrient dense food, labor issues, orchards, seed sources, small grain production and financial management. The forum is open to all, including farmers, ranchers, ag students, gardeners and those interested in food issues.

“I think that everybody would get a lot of value coming to this conference, even home gardeners. We will teach how to read the land and your garden, and what the plants are trying to tell you,” she said. “People are realizing how food quality, allergies, diseases, water quality, and the list goes on and on and on, how all of this leads people back to soil. I think it’s great and about time soil got recognition. It’s featured high on a lot of international intergovernmental panel discussions.”

In fact, soil management is considered part of the solution to three of the United Nations Conventions, international treaties committing U.N. members to action: climate change, biodiversity and desertification. Alejandro Carrillo, another Food & Farm Forum presenter, is invited several times a year to U.N. conferences in China, Africa, India and other countries around the world to share his knowledge of wholistic grazing practices, which regenerate soil. He is a member of the Understanding AG consulting team, along with Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta and Allen Williams, known as the “Carbon Cowboys” because of their focus on sequestering carbon in the soil rather than pushing it into the atmosphere to cause climate change. They also assist ranchers across the North and South America to adopt the grazing methods.

“We met again some friends from Columbia. They are trying to protect Amazonia. At my ranch in Mexico, we get 10 inches of rain per year, but they get 160 inches per year. We are from the desert, and they are from one of highest rain areas of the world. However, when they don’t get rain for a week in the Columbian Amazon, they are in a drought,” Carrillo said. “At those farms, we saw exactly the same issue as we had before changing management methods: no water penetration and a lot of chemicals. They keep fighting nature. The roots are pretty shallow normally. The difference is when they don’t get a lot of water there’s not good biomass on top, too. Everything just goes away. A full hill gets defoliated. The principles of wholistic grazing are actually the same in both places. They are universal. We need to realize, the most important thing is to understand how nature works and how the water cycle works.”

At the same time, he said management needs to be adaptive, not just to the place but to conditions. The same methods can be used, but they must be used in concert with what else is happening and what components are involved.

“There’s no formula applied across the board. That’s a recipe for failure in ranching. Everybody has to take the knowledge, apply the knowledge and naturally be thoughtful and observant about what’s going on,” he explained. “That’s another challenge we have right now. Accessing our observational skills is really very difficult these days; we are very distracted by technology. At the ranch, we have to be very observant. There is a communication between animals, nature and the rancher.”

The Food & Farm Forum is organized by the Valley Food Partnership, CSU Extension, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, ENGAGE and Shavano Conservation District. Locally sourced food is provided throughout the event. Interpretation and registration materials are available in Spanish. For a complete list of topics or to register, visit foodfarmforum.org or call 781-264-1882.