It’s Not Too Late to Learn New Soil Health Tricks

Agronomist Lee Briese shares how a yo-yo can inspire farmers to embrace new challenges. 

Details matter. 

For years, that’s been the message Lee Briese shares with the farmers for whom he is a certified crop advisor. It’s those little details that can make a good crop great, says Briese, who works for Centrol Crop Consulting in Edgely, North Dakota. 

It’s also the little details that turned Briese from a yo-yo novice to a yo-yo trickster in the weeks leading up to his presentation at the Dakota Innovators and Research Technology Workshop in Fargo Dec. 10-11. The parallels between adoption of soil health practices and learning yo-yo tricks are similar - once you understand them. 

“Why a yo-yo?” Briese asked a crowd of 250 farmers in the group’s keynote talk. “Because they are fun. And after the year we’ve all had, I thought a little bit of fun was worth it,” he says. 

Lee Briese, crop consultant with Centrol
Lee Briese
Everyone can learn to use a yo-yo. “It doesn't take real special talents or real special acumen,” says Briese. It just takes practice, which Briese did incessantly for months.
Improving soil health is similar: if you farm, you can improve your soil. “I think we can all move forward,” Briese says. The resources are readily available through meetings, by reading research or watching lectures on the Internet or by talking with others. But you have to take the initiative - just like he did by learning how to yo-yo. 

“In the end you still have to learn it. You still have to practice it and take the time,” he says. 

Farming, he adds, is like a yo-yo in that it moves at full speed. When it's time to plant or harvest, you need to get it done. There’s no slowing down a yo-yo, and there’s no stopping whatever Mother Nature throws at you. 

“Has farming ever slowed down for anybody? If you're going to try something new or going to do something different, you've got to learn it at real speed,” Briese says. 

“Let’s say you're going to try and cover crops for their first time this year. That's great,” he adds. “If you're going to do it at a certain time before the rain, the rain is not going to let you hold up and wait for you to get ready.”

Learning New Tricks

Briese wants farmers to take stock in their plans for 2020. Write down goals and objectives, and especially the factors that slow you down. Maybe it’s finances, perhaps it’s time or equipment. Write down what you’re good at, and your short- and long-term goals.  

“Once you know your details you have the opportunity to find ways new things can fit in," he says. 

Perhaps one challenge is saline soils. Did you know that some cover crops can help remediate saline soils? When you write down these goals, and your shortcomings, you can start to research ways in which the puzzles can be solved.   

Sometimes it’s hard to catch on to new tricks. Around the DIRT Conference hotel ballroom, some people caught on to the Sleeper Trick pretty easily. Some didn’t. But perseverance is key. Don’t give up trying to learn them. 

"Once you have the basic trick down, the next thing isn't that hard',” Briese says. You’ll want to do more tricks, like add cover crops to your reduced tillage program. Or bring in livestock to graze your cover crops. Maybe use plants to fix problems that have vexed your operation for years. 

“I've seen this happen with so many growers that I work with,” he explains. “At that point, the tricks become your own. There are all kinds of things you can do. And that’s the cool part of this. Whether it’s cover crops or minimum till or soil health, there are all kinds of ways to make it your own, or add your details.”

Share Your Tricks

Briese notes that he practiced yo-yo tricks incessantly, even when shopping with his wife. Older folks would stop him to talk about the yo-yo they had years ago. Youngsters wanted to know how he performed the tricks. 

“People smiled,” he recalls. 

So return the favor with the tricks you learn on your farm. Share them with others. Tell them what you know.

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