Soil Health Farmer Training Program

About the Farmer Soil Health Program

This program is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Natural Resource Conservation Service Pacific Islands Area (NRCS PIA) and is entitled: Accelerating the Adoption of Soil Health Practices by Farms in Hawai'i through Cohort-based Training.

This cohort training program supports commercial farmers by providing them with resources, skills, and motivation to understand and operationalize the link between soil health, soil fertility, and production issues. Farmers participating in the cohort will receive a complimentary soil health lab test and support to design and trial a soil health practice on their farm. Recognizing that each operation is unique and goals for soil improvement will vary for each cohort participant, this training program emphasizes working directly with each farmer to produce customized, sensible designs for their farms. Using a service-oriented approach to support the farmer's design process, Oahu RC&D will arrange consultation and design review with Hawaii's leading soil health experts and help work through barriers to implementing the design. After completing this program, farmers will feel confident routinely testing and assessing indicators for soil health and will develop a strategy for trialing and monitoring improvements in their soil properties over time.

Course Outcomes

At the end of the program participants will:

  • Understand how to use best available information to observe and assess soil health on their farm, starting with traditional Native Hawaiian understandings and practices

  • Learn where they can contribute to filing pukas and building capacity for critical information and resources to support soil health assessment and management

  • Understand how to integrate regular soil health testing with a soil fertility testing regime;

  • Understand how a lack of soil function can contribute to production issues such as low water and nutrient uptake, increased pest and disease pressure, low germination rates, compaction, ponding and erosion;

  • Set goals and practices for improving soil properties, along with a simple monitoring program to track the results and adapt practices;

  • Develop a strategy for improving soil health on their farm that includes a timeline for integrating selected soil health practices and methods for measuring improvements over time;

  • Learn general upfront costs of soil health practices and awareness of funding to support their strategies for integrating these practices on their farm;

  • Be confident consulting with a soil health technical specialist;

  • Understand how to access premium markets by using branding and marketing strategies for promoting the soil health practices used to produce their crop/product;

  • Join a network of local and farmers in the Pacific region who are both new and experienced to soil health system adoption.

How is this training program delivered and what content is covered in the workshops & training videos?

This training is delivered through a cohort in order to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, motivation, accountability, and to support the adoption of innovative soil health practices on local farms.

Training cohorts will be held regionally on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island with each tailored to the predominant soil types and based on the main management challenges associated with these soil types. Each cohort will include workshop sessions delivered over several months. The workshop series is designed to walk participants through the process of testing and identifying in-field indicators of soil health, setting soil health goals, identifying management practices that can help reach these goals, and integrating these practices into their farm design and operations. The training sessions include a viability model and system for routinely measuring improvements over time.

Farmers participating in this training program will gain confidence in assessing indicators of soil health on their farm and integrating regular soil health lab testing with a soil fertility testing regime. They will understand how to connect observed production issues such as low germination rates, increased pest and disease pressure, low water and nutrient uptake, and erosion with a potential lack of soil function. Based on this observation, they will learn how to develop a strategy for improving soil health on their farm that includes a timeline for integrating selected soil health practices and methods for measuring improvements over time. As part of this strategy, they will assess the general upfront costs of soil health practices and learn about funding to support their strategies for integrating these practices on their farm. They will also work with specialists to identify creative ways to brand and market their regenerative practices to access premium markets. Working with their fellow cohort members and local specialists, participants will become part of a network of farmers who are both new and experienced to soil health system adoption. Through this network, participants will have the opportunity to forge relationships with both local and national soil health technical specialists and contribute to a growing body of knowledge about practices relevant to Hawaii.

This training program is being organized and administered by Oahu RC&D through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Pacific Islands Area State Office.

Soil Health Training Sessions for Hawai'i Island Farmers

The first three sessions of this training will provide producers with a foundational understanding of how improving soil health may address some of the nutrient, pest, disease, and productivity issues observed on their farm. Workshop 1 will set a foundation for how each subsequent session will address soil health and soil fertility. Participants in these training sessions will learn how to use in-field soil health indicators to assess the health of their soil and attribute this loss to potential crop and management challenges on their farm. The ability to assess soil health using simple, low-cost methods will enable producers to troubleshoot and ‘rule out’ how poor soil health is contributing to their decline in crop health and productivity.

Session 1:Linking improved soil health and function to better crop performance

Watch the pre-recorded virtual workshop for Session 1

Session 2:Assessing & Monitoring Soil Health on Your Farm

September 25, 2023, 4-6pm (In-person at O.K Farms)

Setting up an In-FIeld Soil Health Assessment and Monitoring System for Your Farm.

September 25-28th, 2023

Preparing for Your Site Visit & Collecting Soil Lab Samples

One-on-one session on your farm: ORC&D staff will work with each cohort participants to take soil samples on their farm and submit these samples to the UH Crow Lab to test for soil health using parameters that are relevant to Hawaii. CTAHR extension agents will participate in the site visits and provide input on technical issues with implementing or maintaining specific soil health practices.

October-December 2023

The next series of workshops will demonstrate a soil health practice to support the farm’s nutrient management regime, address pest and disease concerns, and productivity. Farmers will be exposed to demonstrations of soil health practices other farmers have tried, lessons learned and recommendations to improve the installation, matinainance, or rotation of the practice in different types of farm operations. Demonstrations of the soil health practice will include a discussion of the estimated cost to install and maintain the practice. Upon completion of these sessions, farmers will have a better understanding of the contributions that can be made from improving soil health functionality for their operation and soil health goals based on their individual soil sample lab results and farm management priorities. Farmers will use the demonstration of soil health practices and their soil health goals to identify which practice(s) they want to trial or 'dial-in' on their farm.

Session 3: Nutrient Management and Soil Health in an Agroforestry System & On-Farm Soil Health Practice Demonstration with Special Guest Speaker Dr. Ted Raddovich

October 23, 2023, 4-6pm

In-person, Monday, 4-6pm, Joe Hewitt's Agroforestry Farm

Session 4: Soil Health Plans & Funding Your Soil Health Practices

December 4, 2023, Virtual, Monday, 4-6pm

ORCD staff will share a demonstration of soil health plan developed with a farmer from the cohort. This example will be used as an example for farmers interested in developing their own soil health management plan or towards developing a strategy and a budget for integrating soil health practices into their own operation.

Date: TBD One-on-one consultation to Discuss Lab Results

Using examples presented in the previous sessions, Oahu RC&D staff will work one-on-one farmers to review the results of soil health lab results and how to use this information to inform the goals and strategies for improving soil health on your farms (based on staffing availability).

Features on Farmer Soil Health Practices

As part of our farmer-to-farmer soil health network, we're visiting with farmers across the islands to learn about the practices farmers are using to build soil health in a range of operations, from diversified market gardens to orchard and agroforestry systems. As our network grows, we hope to add more of the practices used by kupuna and more of the 'ike on why those practices were used. You can view features on specific soil health practices by using the drop-down menu at the top of this webpage or you can access direct links here: Compost in Place practice being trialed by ʻĀīna Hoʻokupu o Kīlauea (AHK) and Crustacean Meal & Mustard Biofumigation Practices by Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana on Kauai, Lā Kāhea Community Farm's drylands kalo and turmeric plots on their Waikapū Mollisol soil, Compost Tea Fertigation and Foliar Application by Ahiki Acres and Poultry Litter Biochar trialed by Thrive Hawaii Family Farm on their organic, diversified veggie operations, and Windbreaks & Strip Tilling Practices from Hua Orchard on Oahu.