Minnesota farmers use buried underwear to test soil health

Associated Press
In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 photo, Amanda and Eric Volsen talk about the extent to which pairs of cotton underwear decomposed over the summer in different fields on their farm near Walters, Minn., during a field day in Easton, Minn. An underwear waistband on the top left is all that remained in the field where the Volsens have practiced no-till and cover crops for the past several years. In contrast, the briefs buried in a field that is conventionally tilled in which the ground is plowed black after the fall harvest and without cover crops remain almost completely intact. While not a scientific test of soil health, farmers in Faribault County who tried the "underwear challenge" say they're happy to see their conservation practices working.

EASTON, Minn. - Some southern Minnesota farmers are using underwear as a creative way to test soil health.

Farmers participating in the "Soil Your Undies" program buried cotton underwear in their fields this summer to see how they would decompose over time, Minnesota Public Radio reported. Farmers recently gathered in Faribault County to share their results.

In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 photo, a pair of tattered cotton briefs hangs on a makeshift clothesline during a field day on strip till and soil health in Easton, Minn. The Faribault County Soil Health Team challenged farmers in the area to bury underwear in their fields in July to see how well they decomposed. While not a scientific test of soil health, some farmers were happy to see their conservation practices are working.

Using underwear is a fun way to raise awareness about the importance of soil health, farmers said. The gathering also highlighted other signs of soil health, such as signs of worm activity.

Eric Volsen farms corn and soybeans near Walters. He buried two pairs of underwear; one in a field that's been tilled over the years and one where cover crops have been planted for three years. The pair in the tilled field was almost completely intact while the pair in the cover crop field was more decomposed, Volsen said.

In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 photo, Natural Resources Conservation Service soil scientist Myles Elsen, center in blue shirt, stands in a trench to examine the health of the soil on Joel Rauenhorst's farm in Easton, Minn., as part of a soil health field day.

"That contrast is very eye-opening to me," he said.

Volsen said he believes that illustrates how planting cover crops can improve soil's health by increasing plants, organisms and nutrients. Tilling fields involves tearing up the soil after crops are harvested to get rid of plant residue.

Program organizer Nathan Carr said the goal was to encourage farmers to share their soil practices. He works with the Faribault County Soil and Water Conservation District, which aims to reduce tilling and encourage the use of cover crops.

"We want to highlight the good stuff people are doing," he said.

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org