In her six years serving as North Dakota State University’s Extension soil health specialist, alumna Abbey Wick (BA ’01, MA ’04) has worked alongside more than 100 farmers to encourage use of conservation-based practices on well over 250,000 acres of land.
Though most of the farmers still have her on speed dial, Wick found a new way to share pertinent soil-related research with the people who need it most. In August 2019, she helped launch a new podcast, “Soil Sense.” Its 15-episode first season covers topics including precision agriculture, new farming approaches and generational farming. And it’s not just for farmers, Wick says.
“Non-agriculture people can listen to this podcast and hear how farmers are … pursuing soil health on their farms or [hear from] consultants who serve as trusted advisors to farmers, or Extension and research faculty at universities that provide science-based guidance,” she says.
Wick, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography at DU before getting her PhD at the University of Wyoming, has had a lifelong passion for geography as well as for DU — her mother was a recruiter for the University’s geography department. Though she initially planned to study anthropology and sociology, she quickly switched her major and found herself working alongside professors she had grown up around, including Terry Toy, Deb Luchsinger and Reuben Miller.
“They took interest in me as an individual and saw potential,” Wick says. “They helped me make the connections that carried me for the next 20 years.”
Wick’s current role is part of the nationwide Extension system, which helps bring agricultural research from land-grant universities to farmers and communities. When Wick first stepped into the role, she noticed communication inefficiencies between the university and agricultural community that farmers simply couldn’t afford.
“Each year, farmers only have one shot at [producing a healthy crop] for the growing season, so they need to get information quickly,” Wick explains. “I bring it all together in a network approach so that the researchers are talking with the farmers, the farmers are talking with other farmers and sharing their experiences, other educators are brought in and people from the industry are brought into the picture too.”
This approach, along with the podcast (which had more than 3,000 plays from around the world in its first month), ensures a steady flow of knowledge and resources for North Dakota’s agricultural core, Wick says.
“Farmers were leading the way on these efforts and were trying to do different things on their farms to control erosion, to manage moisture, to diversify their crop rotations, to make their systems more resilient,” Wick says. Now, she says, “the research is there working alongside the farmers to help provide some of the reasons those practices might work and to allow for broad-scale application with lower risk.”