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Fall Newsletter 2020

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) has released its Fall Soil Health News, showcasing forward momentum on soil health adoption and research. The issue shares highlights from SHI’s 5th Annual Meeting with links to the conference sessions, conference report and video poster sessions.

The newsletter’s articles include:

  • How Soil Health Can Achieve Net Zero Carbon Emissions for U.S. Agriculture
  • “Assessing Soil Health” Webinar Series Delivers Information on Measuring and Assessing Soil Health
  • SHI Awarded $3.25 Million from ARPA-E to Develop Soil Carbon Measurement and Monitoring System
  • The Business Case for Adopting Soil Health Management Systems – A Project Update
  • NAPESHM UPDATE: Progress on Identifying Most Effective Measurements
  • Virtual Field Days Focus on Soil Health Promoting Practices in Cotton
  • Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Named Field to Market Spotlight Honoree
  • Cotton & Covers: Farmers Share Their Soil Health Journey
  • Cristine Morgan, SHI Chief Scientific Officer, Named Soil Science of America Fellow

SHI also announces its new Scientific Advisory Committee.

Read the newsletter here.

ESMC November Newsletter

Executive Director Update

The sheer volume of recent activity that impacts ESMC’s work and that of our members and stakeholders seems to increase every month. Political change aside (for the moment), we’ve seen more and more companies and sectors in and outside the food and beverage sector taking on new goals and commitments to become more sustainable, including pledges to be net zero emitters of carbon and GHG by certain dates. Goal setting and reporting commitments are fantastic to see; they signal that the private sector is continuing to step up to address not just climate change, but associated natural resource and ecological impacts, including water resource constraints, biodiversity impacts, and related concerns that are critical to human and planetary health and food security. Concerns that the global COVID pandemic might reduce commitments or reduce resolve are calmed by the doubling-down of corporate actors that are evident in headlines everywhere, every day.

Valid concerns that society and consumers need to have transparency and clarity into the true impacts of these commitments and endeavors are also increasing. ESMC’s industry-wide approach ensures that sustainability and climate change mitigation activities in the agricultural sector are appropriately and rigorously quantified, verified, and certified by independent authorities. ESMC’s mission of scaling beneficial impacts that benefit society is centered in a voluntary, private market that meets multiple demand-side and buyer needs, while paying the farmers and ranchers whose actions create the impacts. Our program ensures that corporate actors in the agricultural supply chain and value chain need not make these investments individually; and that farmers and ranchers have the necessary tools and opportunities to participate without unduly burdening them. To de-risk these markets, we are ensuring that all market actors have the necessary tools to participate and are testing the entire program with all of them.

ESMC’s programmatic investments in technologically advanced protocols, tools, technologies and a monitoring, reporting, and verification platform have and will continue to establish a credible, durable system that meets market standards, buyer and investor needs, and can track and reward the impacts appropriately. The importance of having a robust and national scale infrastructure that ensures transparent, rigorous outcomes-based, certified tracking of impacts from agriculture cannot be overstated. We need change now, but the changes and the tracking must be durable, and the system must adapt to changing science, technology, and market standards. That flexibility of design is an underpinning of our approach. Where we will be in 5 years is not where we are now.

Recent political changes promise to bring additional opportunities to this space, and ESMC looks forward to engaging as these changes are further discussed and shaped. Additional support to the significant investments the private sector has made in this space, as well as to the public and private investments that ESMC and our members have collectively made is always welcomed, particularly in a manner that does not undermine or erode private voluntary markets which have the potential to scale ecological outcomes alongside traditional conservation programs. Both are necessary, and both must continue to scale impact and outcomes with necessary speed.

Thanks again to our members, stakeholders, collaborators, funders, and supporters for all the work that you do. We are honored to work with you, alongside you, and for you in what continues to be an inspiring and rewarding journey.

Read the full release here:

Living Soil Surpasses 1 MILLION Views

Today, we celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of Living Soil, which has become the nation’s premier soil health documentary. Living Soil has now passed 1 MILLION views!

Living Soil in the Classroom

We invite you to share Living Soil with your local schools. The primary learning goal is to help students develop an understanding of why soil health is important and identify ways that professionals in production agriculture work to improve the health of our nation’s soils, ultimately benefiting all members of society.

Free lesson plans are included for high school and college faculty use. These lesson plans are designed to accompany the Living Soil film and are appropriate to classes in agriculture, natural resources, environment, ecology, biology or human nutrition and food systems.

Lesson Plans

“Educating consumers about the on-farm and environmental benefits of healthy soils can help create more demand for food, fiber, and fuel grown using soil health systems. The Living Soil documentary was created and produced with that goal in mind, so we can achieve the many environmental benefits of healthy soils at a much grander scale,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute. “We thank everyone who has viewed and especially shared the documentary. My only ask is this: Please keep it up!”

The 60-minute film captures the history – and significance – of the soil health movement, beginning with painful images of the Dust Bowl, and then transitioning to personal experiences of innovative women and men who are managing their land to enhance soil health. Living Soil features rural and urban farmers from Maryland to California, producing everything from corn to floral bouquets, united by their care for the soil.

The documentary was directed by Ms. Chelsea Myers of Tiny Attic Productions and produced by the Soil Health Institute through the generous support of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. It is available free of charge and is currently being translated into multiple languages.
Watch the film here:

Dr. Cristine Morgan Named SSSA Fellow

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) today announced that the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) will recognize Dr. Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer of the Soil Health Institute, as a 2020 SSSA Fellow. The annual award is presented for outstanding contributions to soil science through education, national and international service, and research.

Dr. Morgan develops scientific strategy and implementation for SHI’s research. She holds a B.S. from Texas A&M University in Environmental Soil and Plant Sciences and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Read the full story here:

SHI Scientists Present at ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting

SHI scientists will present at the 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting “Translating Visionary Science to Practice” on November 9-13, 2020. The event is virtual, and presentations are available for on-demand viewing throughout the meeting beginning at 9:00am Central on November 9. On-demand presentations will continue to be accessible via the meeting platform for three months.

To register for the event and access SHI talks, visit

We encourage ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting attendees to view these presentations, as well as those in the Measuring and Assessing Soil Health oral session, by searching the title or presenter name in the meeting platform starting on November 9th.

Presentations by SHI Scientists

A Comprehensive Strategy to Advance Adoption of Soil Health Systems
Presented by C. Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., President and CEO

The North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements: Overview and Direction
Presented by Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer

A Comprehensive Approach to Securing Soil, Agriculture, and the Environment
Presented by Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer

Measuring and Assessing Soil Health
Presented by Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer

Economic Assessment of Adoption of Soil Health Management Systems
Presented by John Shanahan, Ph.D., Project Manager – Agronomy

Management-Sensitive Pedotransfer Functions for Plant-Available Water Holding Capacity
Presented by Dianna Bagnall, Ph.D., Research Soil Scientist

Comparing the usefulness of nitrogen measurements used in soil health assessments
Presented by Shannon Cappellazzi, Ph.D., Lead Project Scientist

Towards Quantitative Ratings That Reflect Soil Health Principles: Soil Tillage Intensity
Presented by Michael Cope, Ph.D., Statistician and Database Manager

Soil Hydraulic Properties: Measurement Response to Soil Health Management
Presented by G. Mac Bean, Ph.D., Project Scientist

Assessing the sensitivity and utility of aggregate stability methods for soil health evaluation
Presented by Kelsey L.H. Greub, Ph.D., Project Scientist

Carbon Indicators of Soil Health: Relationships Among Indicators and the Role of Management and Intrinsic Factors
Presented by Daniel Liptzin, Ph.D., Project Scientist

Assessment of targeted amplicon sequencing as an indicator of soil health
Presented by Elizabeth Rieke, Ph.D., Project Scientist

Comparing Soil Carbon Measurements from Long-Term Agricultural Experiments across the United States with Comet-Farm Estimations
Presented by Paul Tracy, Ph.D, Project Agronomist

Soil Health and Its Relationship to the 4R’s of Nutrient Management
Presented by Paul Tracy, Ph.D, Project Agronomist

Farmers first is the key to regenerative agriculture

It’s not every day you hear eight Ph.D.s, entrepreneurs or bigwigs at billion-dollar international companies talking intensely about farmers. But during two regenerative agriculture breakout sessions at VERGE 2020 this week, that’s what happened.

“For us, it was critical to actually put the farmer at the center of this conversation,” said Robyn O’Brien, co-founder of rePlant Capital, during one conversation.

These experts knew that to make real change in the agriculture system that would help draw down carbon and make farming more sustainable, the industry must get the farmers on board. According to Jay Watson, sourcing, sustainability and engagement manager at General Mills, you can have the resources, the buy-in from local governments and the cultural support but to unlock a new way of producing, it needs to be a farmer-led movement.

Farmer Peer Networks Building Healthy Soils for Cotton

When it comes to understanding the sustainability of U.S. cotton, Soil Health Institute (SHI) conservationist David Lamm always returns to the soil. “When producers use management practices that complement how soils function, particularly to support cotton production, they realize that they do not have to accept degraded soil as the norm,” reflects Lamm. “Soil is supposed to cycle nutrients, retain water and buffer against pollutants. It’s a complex biological ecosystem. We are trying to help producers see the soil as a living ecosystem.”

As a conservationist and Project Manager for SHI, Lamm is on the forefront of scaling adoption of positive soil health practices across the cotton belt. The Soil Health Institute launched its Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Project in three states in 2019, participating in Field to Market’s Continuous Improvement Accelerator, with financial support from the Walmart Foundation, VF Foundation, and Wrangler.

“It’s exciting that the industry is wanting to show their consumers that the cotton they use is being grown in a sustainable way,” says Lamm. “Implementing soil health management systems is a very effective way to meet sustainability standards for the cotton industry.”

Read the full story here:

Soil Health Institute Announces Virtual Field Days

The Soil Health Institute (SHI), the non-profit charged with safeguarding and enhancing the vitality and productivity of soils, released today virtual soil health field days. The video tours include conversations with cotton growers and soil health specialists in Arkansas and South Carolina, according to David Lamm, Project Manager of Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton. The series of 13 videos are publicly available on SHI’s YouTube Channel.

Read the full release here:

How to Scale Regenerative Agriculture at Verge

Regenerative agriculture has the potential to draw down billions of tons of carbon dioxide while simultaneously restoring soil health. Yet interest in the approach from producers, food companies and legislators has not translated into widespread adoption of regenerative methods. The good news is that new data and initiatives from entrepreneurs, policy makers and technologists looks set to take regenerative agriculture mainstream over the next few years.

Dr. Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer at Soil Health Institute, will join Taryn Barclay from Cargill and Jay Watson from General Mills for a panel discussion at VERGE on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, from 11:30am to 12:00pm Pacific. The session will cover the latest soil science results and what the data means for the food industry.

Taryn Barclay, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships & Stakeholder Engagement, Cargill

Taryn Barclay has 20 years corporate experience and has been with Cargill since 2007, working to advance Cargill’s food security, nutrition and sustainability strategies and partnering with Cargill businesses on stakeholder engagement, NGO partnership development, public private partnerships, issues management, communications and employee engagement.

Prior to Cargill, Taryn was appointed IPC Media’s (formerly part of Time Warner) first Corporate Responsibility Manager to lead and implement the company’s CR strategy and activities. With a background in Human Resources, Taryn has worked in numerous roles in the UK and South Africa, where she commenced her career in the coal mining division of BHP Billiton.

Taryn obtained an MSc degree in Responsibility & Business Practice from University of Bath, United Kingdom in 2006, and has a BA (Honours) Degree Industrial Psychology from the University of South Africa in addition to her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts: Industrial Psychology & English degree obtained from the University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Taryn was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa. After living in the United Kingdom for 13 years, Taryn relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2015.

Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer, Soil Health Institute

Dr. Cristine Morgan is responsible for establishing research priorities to advance soil health and developing the scientific direction, strategy and implementation for soil health research programs. Her duties include leading scientific research and coordinating projects carried out at various institutions that advance soil health science and result in useful and reportable results.

Prior to joining the Institute, Dr. Morgan was a tenured professor of Soil Science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where she was recognized for outstanding collaboration, teaching, research, and mentoring. Her emphasis was in soil hydrology, pedometrics, and global soil security. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Morgan conducted ground-breaking research on how management practices influence soil-plant-water relations. She also developed methods that were adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for easily measuring soil carbon. She has a history of applying her knowledge to address real-world problems experienced by farmers and ranchers and is passionate about educating others.

Dr. Morgan is a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, she served as a member of the Soil Science Society of America board of directors, and currently serves on the board of the North American Plant Phenotyping Network. Dr. Morgan is an editor-in-chief at the global soil science journal, Geoderma, and founding editor-in-chief of the journal Soil Security.

Dr. Morgan earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Soil Science Department (2000 and 2003, respectively). Her B.S. degree is in Plant and Environmental Soil Sciences from Texas A&M University, magna cum laude (1998).

Jay Watson, Sourcing Engagement Manager, Global Sustainability & Grain Operations, General Mills
Mr. Jay Watson leads efforts to advance progress on agricultural sustainability efforts, including General Mills, Inc.’s (GMI) 2025 greenhouse gas reduction and 2030 regenerative agriculture commitments.

In his role, Mr. Watson collaborates with buyers and external partners to develop and deploy engagements to both characterize & reduce social, environmental and economic impacts of key ingredients.

Mr. Watson has been fortunate to travel to where many of GMI’s key ingredients are grown and appreciates the opportunity to connect with farmers and learn more about stewardship as well as family legacy.

Prior to joining the sustainability team in January 2017, Mr. Watson spent 10 years in a variety of buying roles within the company’s global sourcing organization. Mr. Watson holds B.S. in Finance and a B.S. in Economics from Arizona State University and a MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

For more information about the session, visit:

How to accurately measure the organic carbon content of soil

How to measure organic carbon in soils and, even more importantly, accurately measure how it changes over time, are major challenges in the potential development of new income streams for farmers in the next few years.

Globally, there has been a lot of talk about how soils, usually in connection with being farmed regeneratively, could reverse climate change by acting as a vast carbon sink.

The concept is that farmers could be paid for following carbon-storing practices by companies wanting to offset their emissions, creating another income stream.

But the quest to develop these carbon markets relies very much on an unanswered question – how to sample and measure carbon in soils accurately and repeatably?

When, where, how deep and how often you should sample are all a matter of debate among scientists, let alone what method to use and whether there is a finite or infinite amount of carbon that can be stored in soils.

When there is money on the line, answers to these questions will become vital, and much research is ongoing in this area.

There are more immediate reasons to be assessing soil carbon levels though.

Read the full story here: