Turning the Ship Towards Soil Health Adoption: A Leadership Spotlight

A key piece of shifting complex farming systems are leaders that can build broad support among coworkers, colleagues, farmers, business leaders, consumers and institutions with decision making power. Through our work in cropping systems in the US, we have been learning about the many different places these leaders can emerge.

Dr. Andrea Basche is a rising star in linking agronomy, policy, and equity in the food system. Last year, Andrea joined our Soil Health Leadership Lab, a learning community of technical, soil specialists facilitated by the Food Lab. Through this emerging group, we got to know Andrea and wanted to learn more about her efforts to accelerate adoption of soil health practices.

As an assistant professor in the Agronomy and Horticulture Department at the University of Nebraska, Andrea has an array of explicit responsibilities from teaching to research to publishing papers to securing grant funding. She collaborates on projects conducting on-farm research on soil health. As part of a land grant agronomy program, Andrea has used her platform to ask and help answer questions that would not traditionally fall within the scope of a science-based, conventional, ag department. For example, she is co-leading a project to develop a web platform to help farmers get started with diversifying with cover crops- a project that addresses the resource needs of farmers to speed adaption. In addition, she recently created a well-received mini-course on equity in the agriculture (Exploring the Culture of Agriculture) and is conducting ongoing research collaborations exploring policy-related drivers of soil health practice adoption as part of her work. These critical human and social-political linkages are helping turn innovative ideas into realities in farmers’ fields.

Another key leadership quality that Andrea has tried to hone is considering her audience and presenting her ideas in ways that foster more conversation, not confrontation. At the same time, she’s not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. Andrea values other perspectives as part of developing stronger solutions that take those perspectives into account. Her curiosity has provided the opportunity to be heard by both people in positions of power as well as her students, farmers, and colleagues in ways that may not otherwise be possible.

Looking to the future, Andrea feels hopeful that her students, many of whom plan to return to their family farms, understand the importance of climate change and are eager for ways to make diversification approaches, such as cover crops, a reality back home. Finding ways to effectively listen to, support and provide needed tools and resources to the the next generation of farmers is a key piece towards addressing climate change and farm resiliency in big ag systems in the United States.

To learn more about Andrea’s work, please check out her University of Nebraska-Lincoln webpage.

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