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Farmers improve soil health, increase productivity

“The Soil Health Institute estimates farmers manage some 70 percent of the land in the United States and the individual decisions they make on a daily basis influences soil, air and water quality and other natural resources.

The Soil Health Institute was launched in 2013 in Morrisville, N.C. Wayne Honeycutt, president and CEO of the institute, said the mission is to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement. Conducting work that is economically viable and increases productivity for farmers and ranchers is vital, he said.

“Increasingly farmers are more innovative,” Honeycutt said during a forum on improving soil health at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park Feb. 22.”


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Help Us Create a Research Site Master List

Dear Friends,

The Soil Health Institute requests your assistance in cataloging long-term (≥ 10 years) agricultural experiment sites in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Once compiled, this database will be made publicly accessible for building teams and planning agricultural research requiring inter-institutional collaboration on large scales, including soil health. Only a minimal amount of information is requested. Please submit your site’s information on the page provided by clicking here or on the button below.

Thank you for helping advance the science of soil health!


C. Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D.
President and CEO
                     Soil Health Institute


Economics of Soil Health: Key to Adoption

The current world population of approximately 7.4 billion is projected to increase to approximately 9.7 billion by 2050.  Growing enough food, while also sustaining and improving our natural resources, is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Recently, the concept of “soil health” has captured wide-ranging interest as a focal point for simultaneously achieving food production and environmental goals.  Peer-reviewed, scientific research has in fact shown that many of the same farming/ranching practices to improve soil health can also reduce nutrient losses to ground- and surface water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce erosion, increase yield, suppress plant diseases, and provide pollinator and other wildlife habitat.  However, we must recognize that farmers and ranchers are not only land stewards, but are also business men and women.  Therefore, the economics of soil health-promoting practices play a critical role in their adoption.

There are several aspects of economics that can influence land management decisions.

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The Progressive Farmer: Underground Movement – 1

“It’s not hard to find a soil-health or cover-crop field day. Someone usually has a spade showing off earthworms and their tunnel work. There’s generally a 6-foot-deep pit to look at the root systems, filtration and soil compaction.

What’s missing, though, is data about whether cover crops and other soil-health practices actually pay. The science of penciling out the economics of such practices is still in the early stages. However, groups are working to document what soil health means to a farmer’s bottom line.”

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Iowa Farmer Today: Corn growers urged to improve soil health

“Soil quality is a hot topic in crop production circles these days, with farmers digging more vigorously into the dirt beneath their feet to find answers about what kind of shape it’s in.

That’s why the South Dakota Corn Growers chose to devote a couple hours of the organization’s annual meeting, held recently at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, to a discussion of soil health.

The session featured three experts on soil health who shared their perspectives about what producers can do to improve the bottom line while acting as good stewards of the land.

Wayne Honeycutt, president and CEO of the Soil Health Institute, made a connection with the audience in a down-to-earth presentation that focused on basic concerns of growers.

Honeycutt said better soil health improves crop performance, giving farmers a “fighting chance” to produce the ever-increasing amount of food needed by an increasing world population; increases producers’ ability to handle extreme weather events, from drought to excessive rainfall; and helps keep a rising tide of unwanted governmental regulations at bay.”

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Soil Health: Critical for Farmers, the Environment and Global Food Security

“Spanning across southern Minnesota from the South Dakota border in the west to the Wisconsin border in the east, Minnesota’s First Congressional District is home to some of the most productive agricultural land in America. Here you’ll find fertile soil, rich with nutrients that support the growth of a wide variety of crops.

In my district, like many others throughout the United States, farmers are the backbone of our economy. There are no better stewards of the land than those who depend on it for their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families. As policymakers and those interested in both economic growth and environmental conservation, (while meeting the needs of a growing population) we need to ensure that the sound policies are in place to help support farmers and others working hard to be good stewards of the land. And good stewardship starts with healthy soil.”

– Congressman Tim Walz, MN


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Position Announcement

Position: Agronomist/Agricultural Economist

Term: 6 to 12 months

The Soil Health Institute, a non-profit organization created to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement, seeks a professional agronomist or agricultural economist with expertise in both fields for a term appointment appropriate for a sabbatical or short-term postdoctoral assignment.  Duties include critical analysis and review of the peer-reviewed literature relating soil health promoting practices with on-farm economic impact, risk quantification, and risk management; preparation of reports and articles summarizing the literature on these topics; and creation of outreach materials to educate farmers, commodity organizations, scientists, extension personnel, and the public on the economic benefits of managing soil to sustain and enhance soil health.  A Ph.D. in agronomy or agricultural economics, with demonstrated research experience linking both fields, is required.  Research-level expertise in statistics, economic analyses, agricultural production and/or resource management practices is required.  Residence during the appointment at the Soil Health Institute’s office near RTP is preferred but negotiable. Salary and benefits are commensurate with experience.  To apply, send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, list of publications, and the names/contact information of four references by December, 15 2016 to Mr. Byron Rath:  Position will remain open until filled.

Soil Health Institute, Datu Research Receive Grant To Evaluate Economic Impact of Soil Health Practices

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Datu Research today announced a $626,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to quantify the economic risks and rewards of soil health management systems used in farming.  Management practices that improve soil health can increase resilience to drought, improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance sustainability.  However, quantifying the economic impact of such practices is key for increasing farmer adoption, and such impacts are largely not yet quantified.

SHI will conduct a systematic review of scientific literature that evaluates economic risk and yield impacts of soil health-promoting practices, such as no-till, zone tillage, reduced tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, manure/biosolid application, and other management practices. SHI will curate this data and conduct a comprehensive analysis to determine how such factors as climatic zone, soil properties, cropping system and management practices influence soil health and economic risk relationships.  Datu Research LLC, Durham, NC, will conduct focus groups to learn what risks farmers perceive in adopting cover crops, then collect actual budget data from cover crop adopters to compare perceived versus actual risks.

“Economics is a primary driver influencing adoption of soil health-promoting practices and systems. Consequently, to realize the environmental and resilience benefits of soil health management systems, the economics of such practices must be assessed, demonstrated and communicated,” explains Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., SHI president and CEO.  “This generous grant from the Walton Family Foundation will allow us to assess and communicate how soil health management systems influence farmers’ investment risk. We believe it’s important to summarize the nation’s research, viewing the results objectively from a business perspective,” said Honeycutt. “We want to be sure that farmers have the evidence-based information they need in making their management decisions,” added Marcy Lowe, Datu CEO.

Following data curation and analysis, SHI and Datu will develop fact sheets to distribute project findings to farmers through numerous public and private partners.

“The Soil Health Institute consists of a broad collaboration of agricultural and environmental leaders that was created to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement,” Honeycutt said. “Studies show that increasing soil organic carbon can significantly enhance resilience of our soils, cropping systems and grazing systems to both drought and heavy precipitation. Unfortunately, most of our cultivated soils have lost approximately 20-40% of their native organic carbon, thereby increasing crop vulnerability to extreme weather events like drought. The Walton Family Foundation grant will allow us to pull the scientific evidence together and discern which management systems work best for both our agricultural producers and our environment as a whole. The on-farm surveys conducted by our partner, Datu Research, will provide much needed ground-truthing of real world economics as experienced by farmers. Collectively, this will give us a fairly complete picture of how soil health practices impact farmers’ economic risk.”