Programs & Activities
Roles of the Soil Health Institute
- Address soil health collaboration, research and education needs;
- Identify research needs that will support improved soil health and agricultural profitability;
- Seek and obtain funding to address research and education gaps;
- Administer an accountable, transparent and technically proficient grants program that develops and capitalizes on synergies among projects and across research disciplines (agriculture, biology, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, climate sciences, sociology, business, and economics);
- Collaborate with Grantees and Partners to assess soil health, adhering to science-based research principles;
- Collaborate with all stakeholders to provide useful information on soil health and speed adoption of best practices;
- Provide feedback to researchers, policy makers, educators and others involved in land use and soil health;
- Incorporate research results into informational materials for farmers, ranchers and others;
- Build and enhance partnerships for increasing education, technology transfer and adoption.
(Individual Buttons for SHI Working Groups)
The Research Working Group has provided significant input on identifying key research gaps and continues to work to ensure that the research effort captures a broad view of soil health with high quality data. This group has identified key chemical, physical and biological processes that impact productivity, resilience and environmental quality. Participants scored the state of knowledge surrounding each process and emphasized the importance of considering integration and interactions among processes. They recommended
- a) cataloguing information and network infrastructure from existing, long-term projects and sites;
- b) maximizing research on aspirational farming systems that promote positive biological, physical and chemical processes,
- c) synthesizing a full body of work into effective individual management decision-making, especially via user decision support tools; and
- d) placing special emphasis on linking soil health research to human health and ecosystem services.
To assist the Institute with serving as a resource of past and current soil health research, a Beta version of the Soil Health Research Landscape Tool is undergoing improvements based on the recommendations made by the review committee. The Research Landscape Tool is designed to provide an up-to-date, dynamic, curated repository of soil health research literature to serve researchers, practitioners, producers, labs, consultants, educators, funders and advocates.
Measurement & Standards
The Measurements & Standards Working Group has focused on the identification of soil processes that are most important to soil health, the selection of indicators that reflect those processes, and vetting of analytical methods to capture those indicators. At the Institute’s 1st Annual Meeting, the Measurements & Standards Working Group discussed the results of seven straw papers prepared by designated sub-groups. These straw papers reflected agreement on the selection of 5 of the 6 soil health indicators, and the need for ongoing dialogue to reach agreement on several associated methods and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). To resolve remaining areas of divergence, participants generated ideas for future steps and offered input on the design of a National Soil Health Assessment, including critical themes and values to incorporate, existing information sources to consider, and types of metadata to collect.
Over the past two years, the Economics Working Group has focused on developing decision tools to help producers evaluate and adopt soil health management practices through knowledge of the economics associated with those practices. At the Soil Health Institute’s 1st Annual Meeting, this working group revised their goal statement to demonstrate the benefits of these management systems on the farm and to society. Participants recommended splitting into two future sub-groups focused on “On-Farm Economics” and “Societal Cost/Benefits.”
The Education Working Group agreed that the Institute’s overall goal is to serve as a central hub for soil health research and information. Activities developed under this plan are designed to
- broaden the depth of knowledge regarding the critical nature of soil health
- deliver focused messages to SHI’s active network of contributors
- underscore and emphasize the Institute’s activities
- facilitate a common soil health language and engage SHI audiences in a conversation about soil health’s impact on water quality, resilience to a changing climate, greenhouse gas mitigation, human health, air quality, pollinator and wildlife habitat and food security
- demonstrate SHI’s technical proficiency
The results of these activities are designed to engage the public, farmers and ranchers, scientists and researchers, policymakers and industry in a conversation about soil health helps to catalyze the adoption of soil health management systems.
The Policy Working Group has indicated that additional information is needed regarding the relationship between soil health management and outcomes. Participants generated a list of key government policies that impact U.S. soil health, discussed potential improvements to selected priorities, and identified high-priority policy points to consider, including targeted funding to stimulate soil health activity on a regional level.