Wheat College preview Soil will be focus of annual grower education workshop

By Trista Crossley


Next month, Washington wheat growers will have the chance to hear about regenerative agriculture principles from the soil guy himself at the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s annual Wheat College.

Wheat College will be held June 4, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Lincoln County fairgrounds in Davenport, Wash. Ray Archuleta is the featured speaker. Admittance is free of charge, and Wheat College is open to all growers, not just Washington Association of Wheat Growers members. Preregistration is required, and lunch will be provided. Two pesticide credits are being applied for, and there will be door prize drawings.

Archuleta is a certified professional soil scientist with the Soil Science Society of America and has over 30 years of experience working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). After he retired from the NRCS, Archuleta established the Soil Health Academy to teach biomimicry strategies and agroecology principles for improving soil function. He currently lives in Missouri where he owns and operates a family farm.

“We call soil the foundation resource. Without the soil, you don’t have life on the planet. Period. It’s as simple as that,” Archuleta explained. “The most beautiful thing about soil is it’s the most complex ecosystem on the planet. You have more biodiversity (in the soil) than in any other ecosystem. Farmers and ranchers interface with that incredible ecosystem and know very little about it. My aim is to stress that it is alive, just like we are, and the way we treat it, with our tillage, our chemicals, the fertilizers, the herbicides and just leaving it fallow, is just absolutely atrocious for a living system.”

At Wheat College, Archuleta will be focusing on biomimetric agriculture, or imitating natural designs and solutions to grow a crop while reducing the cost of inputs. One of those solutions is to introduce biodiversity, especially on fallow fields, which he equates to starving the soil ecosystem. Archuleta grew up in New Mexico and has spent years working in the West, including eastern Oregon. He’s worked with dryland growers in low rainfall zones in multiple states who have eliminated their fallow rotations, primarily by introducing animals, which he says bring a rest period so those systems can recharge. Crop rotations and cover cropping are other ways to introduce biodiversity.

“There are other ways of looking at things. But the current system isn’t working. It is destructive towards biology, and it’s destructive towards the climate,” he said. “When you farm contrary to nature, it degrades the system, becomes more costly, and increasingly sickly. It becomes addicted to fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides. My whole message to the wheat growers is how you can improve your system and bring more biodiversity to enhance your soil health and reduce costs. It’s tapping into nature’s wisdom.”

Microbes are another area Archuleta plans to explore at Wheat College. He explained that microbes help create nutrient/water cycles and build soil aggregation, but “if you put microbes in there, but they are starving and you don’t have a plant in there, you are missing the whole point.” He added that studies have shown that microbial communities in the soil enhance water capture and help plants use less water. Archuleta knows farmers can be skeptical of his message, and he’s heard most of the excuses, especially farmers telling him he doesn’t know their soils. He presents the science and the information, and it’s up to growers to act on it.

“I say there’s microbes in your soil too. The soils function the same everywhere in the world. The only difference is that you are dryer, and microbes run on water. So, you still have the same microbial communities that do the same function. Your issues are logistical issues and mindset issues,” he said. “But it still wants biodiversity. It still runs on microbes.”

Archuleta hopes Wheat College attendees leave his presentation with new ideas on how to tap into nature. He said this system requires a different way of thinking and includes more study and management.

“This regenerative system isn’t for everybody, but if they want financial freedom, this is the way to go,” he said. “Regenerative agriculture starts with renewal. Regeneration means renewal. And renewal happens in your heart and mind. It’s kind of like I tell farmers — what do you want, a regenerative marriage or a sustainable marriage? If you have a sustainable marriage, that sucks. You are just sustaining and tolerating each other. But a renewable marriage is you wake up the next morning and go ‘Oh my God, I love that man,’ or ‘I love that woman.’ It’s based on love, life, and growth. It depends on what you want.”

Wheat College will include industry updates and wrap up with presentations on the latest agronomic research including emerging herbicide resistance issues, roots and pest identification, soil pH, and soil compaction.

To register for the 2024 Wheat College, go to wawg.org/ammo-workshops/ or call the Washington Association of Wheat Growers office at (509) 659-0610.