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Five Minutes to a Better Understanding of Soil

RayArchuletaOnSoilsAs an animal science major at Cornell in the 1980’s, I took a course in soils. I’m not sure if it was the subject matter or the professor, but I just couldn’t get excited about the class. I think I skipped a number of classes, and slept through a few more, so the fact that I passed the course with any knowledge of soils is fairly remarkable. I had the basics – I knew there are different soil types, and it was based on the changes in the soil profile when a soil pit was dug to a certain depth. Then there was the color and texture of the soil, the clay or sand content, organic matter, and fertility, and different crops could grow on different soils better or worse based on these characteristics. I thought that was all I would ever really need to know.

Almost 30 years later and working for USDA-NRCS as a grazing and animal nutrition specialist, soil plays a big part of how I think about pastures now. There is so much more going on below the soil surface than I remember learning about in college. Interactions between plant roots and soil micro-organisms, earthworms aerating the soil, plants working together to bring nutrients up from different root zones – these feed the plants that feed our animals.

A big part of my understanding comes from NRCS Soil Scientist Ray Archuleta.  He is probably one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard on soils – too bad I didn’t have him in college! Lately, Ray has been sharing his enthusiasm for all things soil as part of these “Soil Health in a Minute” videos created by the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.  In just a few short minutes you’ll see:

What Healthy Soil Should Look Like

What Healthy Soil Should Smell Like

The Consequences of Tillage on Soil Function

How Cover Improves Soil Health

How to Do a Simple Soil Stability Test

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Karen Hoffman
Karen Hoffman
Karen has a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell with an emphasis on dairy cattle management and nutrition and an MS from Penn State where her thesis project investigated various grain feeding strategies to high producing dairy cows on a rotational grazing system. She spent 6 years with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County, NY as a dairy management educator for 6 years. She now serves as Resource Conservationist - Animal Science for the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, where she has been for 15+ years. Karen's expertise is feeding management that keeps costs of production low. She also troubleshoots nutrition and management problems when needed, and provides educational presentations on grazing and feeding. She is co-author of the publications “Prescribed Grazing and Feeding Management for Lactating Dairy Cows” and NOFA-NY’s “Transitioning to Organic Dairy Self-Assessment Workbook” and “The Organic Dairy Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Transition and Beyond”. She also writes for Graze magazine addressing feeding questions, and participates in grazing research projects with Universities and USDA-Agricultural Research Service. Karen and her family run a grass-based farm Chenango County, NY raising polled Dorset sheep, heritage breed turkeys, laying hens, and a registered Holstein calf. She has a small number of milking Holsteins on a friend’s grass-based dairy farm as well.

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