Soil Health Tour with Nicole Masters ahead

Internationally recognized agroecologist, author and teacher Nicole Masters will facilitate five in-person soil health workshops across North-Central Montana this summer.

“In the midst of a drought, we’re all thinking, ‘What can we do to make our land and our ranches more resilient?” rancher and Musselshell Watershed Coalition coordinator Laura Nowlin said. “Anything we can do is worth considering, and we know that soil health is a critical part of that equation.”

The day-long, hands-on workshops will be held in Winnett, Malta, Glasgow and Circle, Montana starting June 28. Each location will have unique, site-specific topical focuses and targeted key take-aways, but all locations will cover an introduction to soil health principles. Attendees are welcome to choose one or several locations to attend. Registration is now open at www.ranchstewards.org.

Masters, the director of internationally recognized Integrity Soils, has a formal background in ecology, soil science and organizational learning. Her team at Integrity Soils works alongside producers in the U.S., Canada, and across the Australasia region consulting and coaching land managers in soil health principles. Her book, For the Love of Soil, is a land manager’s roadmap to healthy soil and revitalized food systems. The book equips producers with knowledge, skills, and insights to regenerate ecosystem health and grow farm profits.

The Soil Health Tour is hosted by a partnership between the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Winnett ACES, and the Garfield, McCone, and Petroleum County Conservation Districts.

“Our goal is to have more tools in the toolbox when it comes to knowing how we can help our soil hold more moisture, how we can add diversity to our soil, and how these skills will help us be more productive and profitable in the long term,” Petroleum County Conservation District administrator Carie Hess said. “Soil health is a landscape issue – it doesn’t know boundaries, and when we all work together, we can make big improvements across the landscape.”

Masters will kick off the Soil Health Tour at 10 a.m., Monday, June 28 at the Flatwillow Hall near Winnett, Montana for the “Ladies Day on the Range.”  Guests should plan to bring a sack lunch for the all-day event, which will focus on a basic understanding of soil health, explore how healthy soils are connected to healthy foods and ask, ‘What should we do first to improve nutrient density?” Registration for the Ladies’ Day is $20 per person.

The broader Soil Health Overview workshop will open at 1 p.m. the following day, Tuesday, June 29, for all participants. This session will begin at 1 p.m., also at Flatwillow Hall, with dinner provided and an optional BYOB social hour at 6 p.m. This session will offer a rangelands and grazing focus, identifying how to manage for grasshoppers, tame grass pastures, and address annual grasses like cheat grass and Japanese brome. Registration is $35 for the first registrant, then $20 for additional business or family members (up to six people).

The Soil Health Tour will reconvene at 1 p.m., Saturday, July 10 at the C Lazy J Ranch south of Malta, Montana. Craig and Conni French will host Master’s classroom and field instruction from 1-5:30 p.m. at the ranch, with a focus on grassland restoration and intensive livestock grazing for soil health. Dinner will be provided for all guests at 6 p.m. at the Milk River Pavilion in Malta; a no-host social hour will follow for anyone interested in learning more.

Beginning at 9 a.m., Monday, July 12, Jeff and Marisa Sather will host Master’s next event on their farm and ranch near Larslan in Valley County. This location will focus on soil health in cropland systems, including the use of traditional grains, forage and cover crops in rotation, inter-cropping, and livestock integration. Guests will discuss and view results from compost extract applications and other biological and mineral amendment protocols, along with an equipment demonstration, including a compost extractor, combine stripper header, and mobile electric fencing unit.

The final session of the tour begins at 9 a.m., Wednesday, July 14 at Josh and Amanda Murphy’s Circle, Montana ranch. Field work will be from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch and an indoor classroom discussion at the Circle Fairgrounds. This workshop will focus on future uses for expired CRP land and regenerating old, crested wheatgrass stands. Registration for all sessions other than the Ladies Day on the Range is $35 for an initial registrant; $20 per additional business or family member (up to six people per group).

Earlier in the year, Masters was a featured speaker in a Ranchers Stewardship Alliance-hosted webinar, “Building resilient underground livestock: Principles for regenerative agriculture and soil health.” A recording of the webinar is available at https://youtu.be/9Lrn-sfWAv4.

Farmers, ranchers, grazers, and gardeners alike are welcome and encouraged to register early. Registration for each location will close one week before its respective event.  Youth are welcomed to attend; children under the age of 12 may join free of charge. Registration scholarships are available for young/beginning producers (under the age of 40). The scholarship application can be found on the event’s registration page and takes less than ten minutes to complete. Link to the registration page can be found at www.ranchstewards.org.

For questions or more information, please contact Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Project Leader Laura Nelson at info@ranchstewards.org, or call the RSA office at 406-654-1405.

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