Clean water, climate stability and a plentiful supply of nutritious food are just a few of the key initiatives the Soil Health Institute (SHI) has under way.
Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer for SHI, says, “SHI is a non-profit and our mission is to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement.”
SHI recognizes most soils in the United States are managed by farmers and ranchers, so providing tools that offer why implementing soil health improvement is important, how to improve soil health on their lands and the profitability component is the key goal.
“Once (a farmer) changes something, they need to be able to measure it. Therefore, (SHI) has put a lot of research into practical measures of soil health for monitoring and tracking that’s also affordable,” Morgan says. “We want to be able to track and quantify outcomes for all stakeholders and provide educational opportunities for everyone.”
Recently, SHI partnered with land managers, certified crop advisors, ag retailers and independent crop consultants. Recognizing that there are many different soil types, across many different demographics in the U.S., Morgan says SHI started the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements (NAPESHM).
The goal of the NAPESHM project was to assess the ability of soil health indicators to detect differences in properties of soil that have been managed in different ways for at least 10 years. Morgan says the SHI team identified a minimum set of measurements that could work on all soil types across the country.
After receiving the measurements from farmers, the SHI team evaluated what measurements work, respond to change in management and pinpointed a few simple measurements.
“In the work the SHI team is doing on the soil health metric front,” Morgan says, “We need to focus on healthy farmers and healthy rural communities, and soil health is a huge component of good economic stewardship.”
When Morgan joined the SHI team in 2018, the first project she worked on was a partnership with Cargill to measure partial management budgets.
“From the hundred corn and soybean farmers (the partnership worked with to conduct the research), on average the corn rotation earned an extra $52 an acre and the soybeans earned an extra $45 an acre,” she says of the implementation of a soil health management system.
In the study, most farm operations were implementing reduced till or no-till and some were also implementing cover crops.
An eye-opening finding, Morgan says that 88% of farmers had net income increases associated with their cropping systems and adaption of soil health management.
“Not only did we find out they were making more money, but they also had more time because they weren’t in the field as much,” she says.
Morgan and her team also recognize the challenges in “formulating” or “prescribing” soil health management systems.
“Soil health management systems get complicated, because no two farms look the same,” she says, “Instead, you’re listening and responding to the biology in the system rather than following a recipe. With the unknowns, one of the things at the institute we are trying to encourage is mentorship and speaking with others on the success you have found in your region and in different cover crop species.”
SHI is a catalyst for soil health. The team works to help farmers find local experts who can further define an operation’s key metrics, measurement and, ultimately, offer guidance to get started in a soil health management system.
“Just try a new soil health management system,” Morgan says. “It will be rewarding and in the long run it is a proven way to save time and money.”
To learn more about The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and how they are working to ensure clean water, climate stability and a plentiful food supply, visit soilhealthinstitute.org or reach out to Cristine Morgan, Ph.D. directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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