Soil Health Restoration on the High Plains, Part 3

Interview with Jay Young

Jay Young and his father, Jerry, own and operate Young Red Angus in Tribune, Kansas. Since discovering the Johnson-Su composting process, Jay has been producing and apply compost extracts on 8,000 acres of corn, wheat, and milo, as well as running cattle on cover crops. Jay shares his knowledge and discoveries, as well as conversations with kindred spirits, on his popular YouTube channel, and has been invited to speak at conferences throughout the Plains region.

This interview will be posted in essay format in three sections:

  1. Johnson-Su Compost: Why and How 
  2. Jay’s Results
  3. Resources and Recommendations


Section 3: Resources and Recommendations

Advice from Jay’s Experience   

Looking back, the biggest thing I would tell myself would be to watch the Johnson-Su YouTube videos and write everything down. It was amazing how much stuff I forgot. There were so many little things, like I thought I was creating mycorrhizal fungus within the Johnson-Su, I was just super green. It’s fun to think about that – part of it is just learning on the journey and understanding the science along the journey. That’s one reason why I tell farmers to make their own Johnson-Sus, because understanding this stuff is fun. Explaining it to other farmers is fun. It’s exciting to see them realize that what you’re saying has merit to it and it makes them want to learn themselves and it makes change on their own environment. I might not be able to come to a farmer and say, “hey, tillage is really destructive, we’re destroying the environment,” and they’re going to think I’m a crazy person or a left-wing lunatic; or I could say, “I’ve got this system that will save you a quarter million dollars on input costs, you want to talk about it?” “Oh yeah, what are you going to do for me to save that much money?”

If they go down that path and they understand the science and they realize what they’re doing to help their soil, that’s going to open them up to be more receptive to realizing that this actually heals soil. That means what I’m doing is actually detrimental to the soil and I need to change because of how destructive this is. That’s what I think gets people to change. You can’t just go up to somebody and say, “hey, we’re destroying the environment,” they don’t want to hear that. That’s what I love about it, because you’re appealing to their need, and if you’re appealing to their needs and their wants like that, they’re more susceptible to realizing that hey, some changes I really do need to make.

I think what I do is replicable in every area. The challenge is, some of these guys in Minnesota, they get so much rain, they’re just ripping the crap out of their ground. They’re ripping deep, and they’re putting tile on the ground and all this stuff. Getting them to transition to where they’re applying cover crops and compost extracts to heal their water infiltration and everything, that would be tough, because their input costs are so expensive. I think it works in every area, but you got to figure it out in your area, and there’s some people I don’t know how to tell them how to help them figure out how to do it in their area. I know it works in every area, everywhere it’s tried it’s going to work, but people got to want to make it work.


Educational Resources

For the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters is a great book that will help people understand some of these processes. Dirt by David Montgomery won’t help them as far as Johnson-Su goes, but it’ll help them understand how broken the water cycle is and how destructive tillage is. As far as making Johnson-Su bioreactors, YouTube has been the best resource for me, and watching those symposiums that Dr. David Johnson does. Dr. James White of Rutgers University has some great YouTube videos. Dr. Toby Kiers has some amazing research on fungus, and what benefit fungus plays in the role of plant health. Those three scientists I really enjoy watching their stuff. John Kempf is probably one of the smartest farmers there is when it comes to this kind of stuff, and John’s Advancing Eco-Agriculture resources are amazing. If you go to Green Cover Seed’s resource page, they have a ton of webinars and a ton of books that they recommend for people on all this things. There’s no end to the amount of resources out there to help people get started. They just have to be hungry and wanting to learn, and they’re going to find the resources that are going to help them down this path.


Processing Information

I would say, watch everything that Dr. Johnson does and then filter the science through that. There are some gardeners out there that I think – I don’t want to say they’re putting out bad information, they just don’t have a depth of understanding of it, and they have I think fifty times more subscribers than Dr. Johnson has. So people are watching their channel for gardening but then they’re getting information on Johnson-Su from some of these pages. I love what they’re doing because they’re helping people, but they’re also getting a little bit of misinformation – which I try not to be too critical on, because I go back and I watch my first YouTube videos, and my channel was a wealth of misinformation on some of the stuff. So we all go through this journey where we’re learning and we think we’re understanding some things and we’re not getting the full picture.

The other problem I have is that some of these people who want that information, they don’t really want that information, because they don’t want to change. Even with my YouTube videos, man –  if you want to have a good time, just go watch the “207 bushels an acre” YouTube video, or the “Nitrogen myth” video, or the “Phosphorus problem” video, and just go read all the dumb comments. It’s outstanding to me, like one guy said that I was a plant by the left-wing media to circumnavigate people’s common sense and get the government to illegalize fertilizer in the United States. So I know this information is helpful for some people, but people who don’t want to change, they’re not going to listen anyway. I can only change the people who want to change, and those are the people I’m focused on. Once we get enough of those people to change, I think it’ll snowball eventually. Change takes time, it takes people who are willing to be courageous and aren’t afraid to be laughed at and mocked. I love that part of it. I love not caring what people think, and being excited about it, and being excited that some of the skeptics in my own county are now doing it. I’m excited about that, and to know that we’re going to see real changes in my county.

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