North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements

Soil health is the foundation for productive and regenerative agricultural systems. Farming practices that improve soil health can increase farm profitability and mitigate the effects of climate change while protecting and restoring natural resources for communities and families. However, lack of widely applicable measurements and methods for assessing soil health are significant barriers to adopting soil health practices and systems.

This project will help the industry adopt standardized measurements to evaluate and improve soil health while expanding education and tools for local farmers, agronomists, and landowners. By project conclusion, the Soil Health Institute will recommend an answer to the fundamental question: How can we consistently measure and monitor soil health at scale?

A major goal for this project is to assess the ability of over 30 soil health indicators to detect differences in soil health indicators that have been managed in different ways for at least 10 years.

The Institute convened a “blue ribbon panel” of experts from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), several universities, and the private sector to develop consensus on how each indicator should be measured.

A peer-reviewed publication has documented the overall design, and methods employed to identify soil health indicators that are sensitive across agricultural management practices, soil types, and geographies.

Highlights

30+

Soil health indicators assessed

124

Research sites measured

97%

of all samples collected in spring 2019

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Many papers are in review and as they are published, they will be added here.

  • Introducing the North American project to evaluate soil health measurements

  • Carbon-sensitive pedotransfer functions for plant available water

  • Linking soil microbial community structure to potential carbon mineralization: A continental scale assessment of reduced tillage

  • An evaluation of carbon indicators of soil health in long-term agricultural experiments

  • Selecting soil hydraulic properties as indicators of soil health: Measurement response to management and site characteristics

Publication Summaries

Not interested in reading peer review papers? Here we distill the papers to key findings and interesting facts (in less than 500 words!).

  • Fighting Climate Change by Building Soil Carbon Also Gives Farmers More Water to Grow Crops

  • Soil Hydraulic Properties for Measuring Soil Health

Standard Measurement Methods

Here we share laboratory SOPs (Standard Operation Procedures) that SHI uses to communicate needs with commercial soil testing labs.

  • Soil Health Sampling Standard Operating Procedure

  • Soil Total Carbon and Nitrogen by Dry Combustion Standard Operating Procedure

  • Soil Inorganic Carbon by Modified Pressure Calcimeter Standard Operating Procedure

  • Wet Aggregate Stability by Image Quantification Standard Operating Procedure

  • Potential Carbon Mineralization Standard Operating Procedure

  • Particle Size Analysis by Hydrometer Standard Operating Procedure

Details on the 30+ Soil Health Indicators

In addition to these specific indicators, the Soil Health Institute is also evaluating three soil health evaluation frameworks; namely, the Soil Health Management Assessment Framework (Andrews et al., 2004), Cornell’s Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (Moebius-Clune et al., 2016), and the “Haney test” (Haney et al., 2010).


Video Resources

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Partners

SHI thanks the following for their input in deliberations on soil health indicator analytical methods:

Veronica Acosta-Martinez – USDA Agricultural Research Service
Alan Franzluebbers – USDA Agricultural Research Service
Doug Karlen – USDA Agricultural Research Service
David Knaebel – USDA Agricultural Research Service
Dan Manter – USDA Agricultural Research Service
Jennifer Moore-Kucera – USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
David Myrold – Oregon State University
Bob Schindelbeck – Cornell University
Kristen Veum – USDA Agricultural Research Service
Fred Vocasek – ServiTech Labs

SHI Team: Sean Bloszies, Wayne Honeycutt, Sheldon Jones, Byron Rath, Steven Shafer, and Paul Tracy

This project is made possible through the generous support of General Mills, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.


These findings and resources are possible thanks to our committed staff.

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