Researchers, conservationists and farmers partner to evaluate crop practices
A diversified group of soil health enthusiasts is gaining ground after just one year into a five-year initiative evaluating crop practices’ impacton soil. The Soil Health Partnership is administered by the National Corn Growers Association, with initial funding by Monsanto Company and the Walton Family Foundation. With the ultimate goal to measure and communicate the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies, the partnership aims to recruit a network of demonstration farms, establish research protocols, publish findings and recommendations and support networking and technical assistance.
To identify, test and measure management practices, participating farmers will establish demonstration fields ranging from 20 acres to 80 acres in size. Simple protocols and replicated strips will compare standard practices versus practices that improve soil health, such as cover crops, no-till or strip-till, advanced nutrient management methods and other innovations for five years. During that time, farmers are asked to participate in field days and share what they are learning. Each year, 20 new farmers are enrolled in the program, resulting in 100 enlisted by the fifth year of the program.
Scientific advisers for the group include: The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Purdue University, Kansas State University, University of Missouri and Cornell University. This diverse group makes the partnership unique, but all members are passionate when it comes to soil health and its benefits.
In January, the Soil Health Partnership held its first annual Soil Health Summit in St. Louis. Members of the group met to discuss 2014’s accomplishments and equip newly enrolled members. Networking and discussion centered around the protocols farmers are currently using to improve soil health.