Nissen, O’Neill, and Burns are Soil Health Champions

ALAMOSA — The Mosca-Hooper Conservation District (MHCD) in Alamosa County is proud to announce that Erin Nissen, Patrick O’Neill, and Cody Burns have each been named as Soil Health Champions by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).

MHCD worked with NACD to nominate Nissen, O’Neill, and Burns based on their extraordinary work to promote soil health management practices and advance the adoption of these practices within their community. MHCD supports the work of each of these new Champions by helping to publicize their field days and farm tours, and by providing resources for other soil health related promotional activities.

Soil Health Champions are raising awareness about the benefits of soil health practices from the local level to a national one. Champions share their personal experiences using best management practices through the national network on a peer-to-peer basis and through NACD-hosted national meetings and events.

Nissen returned to the family farm after college and became the fourth generation to farm at Nissen Farms in Mosca. She graduated from Texas Tech University in May of 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics. Erin, farming alongside her father Lyle, raises conventional and organic fresh market potatoes, malting barley for Miller/Coors, and multi-species cover crops to improve soil health and to feed their cattle. Erin helps with all aspects of the operation while focusing on soil health, management, record and bookkeeping, food safety, cattle genetics, and herd improvement. Erin also serves as vice president of the Alamosa County Farm Bureau, Sheep Superintendent for the San Luis Valley Fair, member of the Colorado Seed Potato Act Advisory Committee, and Secretary/Treasurer for the SLV Cattleman’s Association.

O’Neill serves as supervisor on the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District and has worked as a crop and soil adviser in the San Luis Valley for 12 years. He produces specialty cover crops for seed, focusing on cultivars of crops adapted to the cropping and livestock systems in which he works. Patrick utilizes a holistic approach to build both capacity and resilience within farm and ranch management teams and within their land. He also served as a Franciscan Mission Service lay missioner in Brazil for three years, working as an agronomist with farmers possessing limited land and economic resources. “It is an honor to be chosen as a Soil Health Champion,” said O’Neill. “Building soil health is essential if America is to meet the challenges of providing food, fuel, and fiber for a growing population here and abroad.”

Burns serves as treasurer/secretary of the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District and is a part owner at his family farm in Hooper. The Burns family has set a goal to produce quality forage for dairy, beef and horse operators while conserving water, minimizing wind erosion, and improving soil health. To get this done they have worked closely with NRCS to implement effective conservation practices. Hipshot Farm has introduced cover crops, conservation crop rotation, and no-till planting using multi-species crops, such as alfalfa, buckwheat, oats, brassicas, peas, clovers, and grasses. Rye and hairy vetch have been used as a cover crop since it can be grazed in winter, baled, and then another multi-species cover crop is planted as soon as possible to provide future forage and maintain a live root in the soil at all times. Burns studied agribusiness and accounting at Adams State University and has served as Senate Representative for the AgriBusiness Club and is a member of the Paccoili (Accounting) Club.

“Nissen, O’Neill, and Burns richly deserves this honor. They will be stellar advocates in helping to increase adoption of soil health practices,” said Kelley Baily, MHCD manager.

Mosca-Hooper Conservation District (MHCD) is a county-wide district in Alamosa County established on June 7, 1943. Total acreage within the District is 462,000 acres and does not include the municipalities of Alamosa or Mosca. The mission of MHCD is to provide leadership in natural resource management for the betterment of all present and future residents of the district through education and example.