Category Archives: SHI in the News

Warming climate brings ‘existential challenges’ to agriculture

The warming climate means we should expect more floods, more droughts and a decline in some important crop nutrients, but good soil management practices may mitigate some of the worst effects.

So said two scientists at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s final Ag Tech Professional Forum for 2019, capping a year of forums examining how climate change affects agriculture.

Robert Beach, Ph.D., senior economist and fellow at RTI International, discussed research that shows a decline in levels of zinc, iron, and protein in many food crops due to increased CO2 levels.

Rising CO2 levels may slow or reverse nutritional gains across all regions, but the effect is worse in many developing countries in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Beach noted that two billion people are already deficient in one or more of these nutrients. Falling levels of protein in rice, he added, have resulted in “major implications for food security.”

In addition, rising CO2 levels affect both the quality and quantity of food, although there are wide variations across geographies, crop types and climate models.

Beach did offer some hope that increasingly sophisticated agricultural practices may mitigate some of the effects of climate change.

Read the full story here:

Farmers are adopting regenerative ag practices, but who’s leading the movement?

“The Soil Health Institute recently released a report describing adoption rates for regenerative agriculture practices like no-till drilling and cover cropping using data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The team compared the data to information obtained about regenerative agriculture practices in the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

““There has been a 50% increase in cover crop acreage between 2012 and 2017, from 10.3 million acres to 15.4 million acres. Once farmers started adopting these practices, they expanded the practices to more acres,” Sara Eckhouse, executive director of FoodShot Global, told AFN. Soil Health Institute is one of FoodShot’s partners and the duo worked together on FoodShot’s Soil 3.0 Challenge.

“The data is inspiring for Eckhouse and other soil health enthusiasts, as well as helpful when it comes to figuring out where the nascent regenerative agriculture movement needs to head. FoodShot’s lengthy list of prestigious partners includes Rabobank, Rockefeller Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Stone Barns Center for Food and Innovation, Builders’ Initiative, Armonia, alongside a number of venture funds and NGOs. This provides Eckhouse and her team with a powerful network of people who can make real, meaningful change when it comes to bringing regenerative agriculture from the academic realm to actual farmland.”

Read the full story here:

Field day shines spotlight on soil health research

“A national soil health research project, including seven experiments in the Pacific Northwest, will share the spotlight during Washington State University’s annual Lind Field Day.

“The event begins 8:30 a.m. June 13 at the dryland research station in Lind.

“Speaker Shannon Cappellazzi, of the Soil Health Institute in North Carolina, will discuss making soil health assessments useful for farmers. She will speak about the institute’s North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements, studying 31 indicators of soil health on 120 long-term experiments across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

“Pacific Northwest researchers will be able to compare soil health assessments with wheat-based systems elsewhere throughout the continent, said Bill Schillinger, director of WSU’s dryland research station in Lind, Wash.

“”It’ll be the first detailed soil health assessment from long-term farming practices in the inland Pacific Northwest across numerous sites,” Schillinger said.”

Read the full story here:

UC ANR CASI hosts Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi

CASI hosts Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi of the Soil Health Institute for two days of sampling at the NRI Project field in Five Points, CA!

Author: Jeffrey P Mitchell

“The UC ANR CASI (Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation) Center hosted Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi, lead scientist for the Western US for two days of soil sampling at the long-term NRI Project in Five Points, CA March 18th and 19th. This well-known ANR study was started in 1999 and has been a unique research resource in the State because of its dedication to investigating reduced disturbance and biodiversity in food production systems. Since being established, it has maintained four experimental systems – standard tillage without a cover crop, standard tillage with a cover crop, no-tillage without a cover crop, and no-tillage with cover crop – and it has afforded comparisons of a long list of soil, crop, environmental, and economic outcomes that have resulted from each of these systems being implemented over such a long time frame. Earlier this year, the site was selected as one of the roughly 125 similar long-term studies in North America that the Soil Health Institute of Morrisville, NC is conducting in 2019. The goals of the monitoring program that is being done at each of these sites is to characterize and better understand how consistent, long-term management impacts a range of soil properties and functions and to also gain better understanding of which indicators of soil health might be best able to detect changes in performance and function across this broad array of environments.”

Read the full story here:

CSA News Features Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health

Soil has an impact on human health in ways that are rarely recognized, according to Anna Wade, Ph.D. student in Environment at Duke University and Elizabeth Stulberg, Ph.D., Science Policy Manager for the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.

The Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health was one step towards integrating interests in the soil and medical communities, the authors said. “The onus is now on us to send a clear and consistent message that soil and human health research collaborations are a priority. The Societies can host smaller meetings between soil scientists and public health researchers that could further refine research questions….”

Read the full article here.

Healthy Soil 101: Why Soil Health Matters and How the Food Sector Can Help

Rallying research power behind soil health-

In 2013, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the Farm Foundation assembled a group of farmers, agricultural industry pros, government agencies, and NGOs to examine soil health and its role in a sustainable ecosystem. As the group detailed the varied issues affecting soil health, it became clear that more collaboration was needed in order to produce accurate, science-based information about what soils need to remain productive. In response, the foundations formed the Soil Health Institute (SHI)—an independent, nonprofit organization charged with supporting soil stewardship and advancing soil health.

To put it simply, the Institute looks to move scientific knowledge about soil health from the laboratory to the field by providing farmers with the tools they need to better manage their soils. “Farmers are the ones who will help us achieve these soil health benefits for the environment and for productivity,” Wayne Honeycutt, president and CEO of the Soil Health Institute, told TriplePundit. “In the area of the business case, we need more information and more research on the profitability of these soil health systems, because farmers and ranchers are businessmen and women.”

Read the Full Article Here:

What Fire Does to Soil Microbes

Soil microorganisms are among the most successful creatures on the planet.

Steven Shafer
Steven Shafer, Ph.D.

By: Steven Shafer, Ph.D.

Fire affects many important ecosystem processes. Much of what we understand about the impact of fire on terrestrial ecosystems comes from many decades of research on the effects of forest and prairie fires on plant communities and succession, nutrient cycling, erosion, and soil properties.

Soil itself is a complex ecosystem that supports all living things above ground. Soils also host an incredible diversity of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that are affected by various factors such as soil nutrients, seasonal changes, drought, pH, chemical applications, plant species and farming practices. Although many microbes are adapted to high-temperature environments (we’re all fascinated by reports of weird microbes growing right at the edges of geysers and undersea vents), no physiologically active microorganism can survive fire.

However, we’ve learned that fire is a powerful regenerating force. This is why prescribed burns are useful management tools in forests and rangelands to clear out old growth, stimulate new growth and recycle nutrients.

Read the full article here:

Agri-Pulse Opinion

Why it’s Important to Connect Soil Health and Human Health Science-

Article by Dr. Steven Shafer
Steven Shafer
Soil quality has long been defined by measurable physical and chemical attributes. Recent advances in technologies and methods for soil biology have allowed the field of soil health to become increasingly meaningful. In fact, we know that food security, achieved when people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003), is inextricably linked to the health of soil.

Soil health is defined as the “continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” Healthy soils contribute to ecosystem functions sustaining plant and animal productivity and biodiversity, filtering contaminants and thus maintaining or enhancing air and water quality, and supporting human health.

The phrase “supporting human health” offers a hopeful connection to feeding the growing world population. Experts in the agriculture, food, human and veterinary medicine sciences see major benefits from an improved understanding of connections between soil health (and the farming practices that promote it) and human health. These connections may occur through the impact of land management, crop and livestock production and commodity processing on nutritional and environmental quality, food safety and the human microbiome.

Read the full article here:

Advancing soil health and sustainable agricultural systems

FFAR awarded $9.4 million to the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership and The Nature Conservancy for collaborative research and education during 2018-2020. The goals are to accelerate adoption and benefits of managing soil health, which can increase farm profitability while protecting natural resources for sustainable agricultural systems.

This project will develop and test standardized measurements for industry adoption in evaluating soil health, while expanding education and decision support tools for local farmers, agronomists and landowners.

Significant engagement with farmers will catalyze greater adoption of soil health promoting practices that benefit productivity, farmer livelihoods and the environment.

Learn more here:

General Mills sustainability chief: Healthy food needs healthy soil

General Mills executive Jerry Lynch says his company is out to do something that sounds simple: Make food that people love.

“We take the output of Mother Nature and farming communities, we transform it into products for consumers to get the nutrition they want in the midst of their busy lives, and we market it to them,” he said.

But as the global food giant’s chief sustainability officer, Lynch is watching that process, from farm to package to table, very closely. And what he sees, he told agribusiness and food industry leaders gathered in Minneapolis on Thursday, concerns him.

“If the front end of that engine — Mother Nature and farming communities — starts to break down, our business becomes either really expensive to operate, or sometimes impossible to operate because we can’t get what we need in order to make those products,” he said.

What he’s talking about: Climate change. Soil erosion and degradation. Extreme weather events that wipe out crops.

Healthy soil, Lynch said, can help with all of those problems: It stores carbon. It has microbes that make nutrients more available to plants, helping them grow. And healthy soil is sponge-like; it can absorb and hold water rather than letting it run off the land.

Read the Full Article Here: