The Soil Health Initiative is Born with Chad Kruger


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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app and leave us a review so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Chad Kruger. Chad is the director of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources and the convening author of the Soil Health Initiative. He is also the director of WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. Chad comes from an eastern Washington wheat and cattle farm family near Spokane. Hello, Chad!

Chad Kruger: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So the Soil Health In– the Soil Health Initiative, I wonder if you can kind of give us a little background on how that all got started?

Chad Kruger: Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting story. The CSA and our advisory committee had been talking about soil health for a number of years, and we’ve gone through a process where we basically identified some priorities for research and education on soil health. And we’d started investing with with existing resources that we had in that, but then Derek Sandison, the director of the State Department of Agriculture, invited me and some others to come talk to the governor at the Results Washington Forum a few years ago, and during that discussion, the governor started asking questions about soil health and I was there, and so I started responding. And at the end of the interchange, he said, “You know, I’m really interested in soil health.” And so after that, the leader of the Department of Agriculture, Derek Sandison and the Conservation Commission and WSU got together and said what would an initiative around soil health statewide all across agriculture actually look like? And we brought together a summit of leaders from different parts of the industry, research community, conservation community and talked about, you know, if we were to design something to help us get in ten years from where we’re at, where we want to be on soil health, what would it look like? And it had dimensions of research and education, conservation implementation, really trying to do a better job of understanding that question of where are we at now with a baseline of soil health across the state? And where do we want to be with a road mapping process to really define what we want to do going forward?

Drew Lyon: I find it really, very interesting that the governor was interested in soil health. Our farmers in eastern Washington I know are very interested whenever we bring that topic up, we get all sorts of interest in in workshops, seminars, just asking questions about it. But any idea how the how the governor of the state of Washington became interested in soil health? [ laughter ]

Chad Kruger: Yeah, I heard later that he’d had a conversation with our friend, David Montgomery, from the University of Washington a couple of days earlier, and it was just really on the front of his mind. And so I talked with David and he kind of walked me back through what the conversation had looked like. But I think it was an eye opening experience for the governor to learn that there was this whole issue of soils that we needed to be addressing as well.

Drew Lyon: Pretty cool. So it’s kind of neat with the timing as well, right? So you just happened to be there at the time when he had that on the front of his mind.

Chad Kruger: Yeah. And I think David cued it up for us, too. And he said, You know, if you really want to know, you need to talk to WSU.

Drew Lyon: Oh, excellent. So what role will WSU and in particular the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources play in this initiative?

Chad Kruger: Yeah. So the initiative is a 3 way partnership between the State Department of Agriculture, the State Conservation Commission, and WSU. Department of Agriculture is kind of the coordinating body. They will handle the the baseline data set and reporting to the governor’s office and the Legislature. The Commission will be responsible for helping farmers at the at the last stage implement practices, and WSU’s role is really, you know, the role we have in everything: research and education. You know, trying to figure out what we don’t know what we need to know, figuring that out and then developing the educational programing to support producers actually making changes. In the Center, what our role will be as simply the convening kind of umbrella organization within WSU to organize and manage this because it will be a multi-department multi-college effort.

Drew Lyon: And do you have some vision of how you’re going to do that in the Center because it is a very broad initiative?

Chad Kruger: Yeah, we’re in the process of selecting a faculty lead for the for the Center for the Soil Health Initiative, and that person will also have a coordinator that will work with them. And then we’re going to collate some data management across multiple sites. And the real drive behind this is a number of long-term experimental sites because soil health questions don’t tend to be questions that could be answered fairly quickly. So we needed to establish longer term sites that are similar to the Cook Farm, though not as intensive as the Cook Farm across the state and the different production systems to be able to answer questions. And so part of our role will be coordinating across those but will, like we do on everything else will dig in to all the existing faculty and expertise that exists in the system that works on the production systems that we care about.

Drew Lyon: Okay, and those will be a clear across the state from here in Pullman, all the way across to the other side.

Chad Kruger: We’re in the process of of selection right now. So we’ve got a request for qualifications out that different faculty across the system are working on. Essentially proposals for kind of everything needs to meet a minimum standard for these long term sites. But then once you meet the minimum standard, then everything else really should have a local flavor. What are the local issues? What is a production system concerns in that area? And each of these sites will be customized to those local needs.

Drew Lyon: And do you have a number of sites in mind or is that kind of up in the air?

Chad Kruger: It’s up in the air right now. The original budget requires three. We think we’re going to get a few more and then they’re in there than that.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So this is the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about how you see the Soil Health Initiative impacting the wheat industry in the state?

Chad Kruger: Yeah, a large share of what we know about soils and soil health does come from the wheat production area of the state and that has a long a lot to do with the long history of partnership around conservation and how that is developed and emerged over the years. So, you know, we do have the Cook Agronomy Farm, which is kind of the one we’re modeling after, which of course, is high rainfall wheat. We have a number of other sites, Lind and Wilke in particular, where there’s a lot of soil health related research that’s gone on over the years. And we’re hoping that we can kind of pull those in and have kind of high intermediate and low rainfall efforts around soil health. And even if there’s not a long term site established at any one of these, there’s going to be potential for experimentation that is added to those sites, too.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so may not be set up yet, but as soon as this gets going, where can growers go to find out what’s happening in the Soil Health Initiative here at WSU?

Chad Kruger: So there is a website, so there’s really two parts of the website. One of those is, which is kind of the new repository that was set up a couple of years ago for everything related to Soil Health and in the University. And that’s managed by Deirdre Griffin LaHue from Crops and Soils and everything can go on there. So if there’s a faculty member somewhere working on soil health, it can contribute there. There is also an as a specific sub site for the Soil Health Initiative, which is really more about process and structure of the initiative that you can find just linked off of the That gives you that idea.

Drew Lyon: All right! Very good. Well, I think this is a pretty exciting time for Soil Health. Tarah Sullivan gave us a little intro to it a little while back and good to get some more information on how this all came together and what the vision is for the initiative. Thanks, Chad.

Chad Kruger: Thanks, Drew.

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Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s — ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.