The Soil Health Institute employs a comprehensive strategy to increase adoption of soil health systems. Click on a program box below to learn about the Institute’s projects.
Goal by 2040
The Soil Health Institute is dedicated to meeting the triple challenge of climate change, water quality, and food security by implementing a strategic approach for tackling the financial, technical, and educational barriers to adopting soil health systems. Addressing these barriers to adoption will enable farmers and ranchers to achieve net zero carbon emissions from agricultural land in the United States by 2040. This is the equivalent of taking nearly 1.5 billion passenger cars off the road for one year. It is also the equivalent of not burning nearly 93 million railcars of coal.
Achieving this goal will also prevent at least 39 million pounds of nitrogen from entering our water and save over 11 million metric tons of soil from erosion. These co-benefits accrue from adopting the same practices used to improve soil health.
Because farmers and ranchers are business men and women, the Institute is conducting projects to quantify the business case for soil health. This includes:
- Assessing the economics of soil health systems compared to conventional systems at 124 research sites and 125 farms across North America.
- Evaluating impact of soil health management on economic risk and yield stability across North America.
- Providing administrative leadership to a new Ecosystem Services Market Consortium.
Several different measures of soil health are currently used, but a uniform, widely-accepted soil health evaluation program has yet to be developed. SHI is currently developing a widely-applicable soil health evaluation program by assessing 31 soil health measurements at 124 long-term agricultural research sites across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This is the most comprehensive, strategic assessment of soil health measurements known to exist. By fall of 2020, SHI will be able to recommend the most effective measurements for farmers, scientists, field conservationists, and others to evaluate the health of their soils.
SHI implemented a soil health training program for cotton farmers that involves establishing local learning networks co-led by farmer mentors and technical specialists who not only provide the training but are also continuously engaged as a resource to other farmers. The training program launched in North Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas in 2019; and is expanding to Mississippi, Texas, and California in 2020.
SHI has identified several R&D needs to advance the science and adoption of soil health. Current and recently completed projects include:
- Developing a decision support tool for farmers that will allow them to select their management practices to achieve a targeted increase in available water holding capacity and therefore drought resilience in their soils. The tool will be completed and field-validated in 2020.
- Hosted and organized a multi-disciplinary conference to explore the relationships between soil health and human health. Identified 10 priorities, as described in the conference report.
- Developed the Soil Health Research Landscape Tool, an on-line database of over 13,000 soil health references from scientific and popular press articles.
SHI is quantifying the benefits of managing for soil health by:
- Assessing the impacts of soil health practice implementation on carbon sequestration and drought resilience in soils across North America.
- Evaluating the relationships between soil health and water quality in the Mississippi River Basin.
- Assessing the impacts of soil health management systems on productivity at 124 research sites and 125 partnering farms across North America.
SHI contributes to well-informed policies by:
- Developing a catalog of over 280 state level programs and policies pertaining to soil health.
- Providing evidence-based information to policymakers when the opportunity arises, including a 2018 congressional briefing provided by the SHI CEO on the importance of soil health for the 2018 Farm Bill.
- Analyzing the Impact of the 2018 Farm Bill on Soil Health, identifying and describing how 60 specific provisions in the Farm Bill may influence soil health.
SHI believes that educating consumers about the many environmental benefits that accrue through soil health will create more market demand for food, fiber, and fuel grown using soil health systems. SHI’s contributions to consumer education include:
- Developed and released the Living Soil documentary describing how innovative farmers across the U.S. are using soil health practices to improve their economic situation and benefit the environment (over 240K views as of 1/3/2020).
- Developed and released lesson plans for High School and College levels to accompany the Living Soil documentary.
- Developed catalog of over 40 on-line soil health resources for K-12 curricula. Currently working to integrate those soil health resources into K-12 educational programs.
- Developed and maintain up-to-date Resources page for farmers and consumers on soil health practices, economics, ecosystem services, measurement, policy, research, climate change, communications, and others.
- Developed “Soil Health 360” to help keep farmers and consumers updated on the latest news, blogs, press releases, website posts, etc. in soil health.
To learn more about how you can support the Soil Health Institute’s solutions for addressing climate change, water quality, and food security by protecting and enhancing soil health please click here.
Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO
Soil Health Institute
Adoption – Getty Images
Business Case – Courtesy of USDA
Research and Development – Courtesy of USDA-ARS
Impact Assessment – Courtesy of Jim Richardson and National Geographic
Policy – Courtesy of USDA-NRCS
Consumer Education – USDA-ARS