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SHI project to evaluate soil health indicators at continental scale

By project conclusion in 2020, SHI expects to have data required for recommending scientifically sound soil health indicators.

May 14, 2018

2 Min Read
SHI project to evaluate soil health indicators at continental scale
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The Soil Health Institute (SHI) has released the initial methods cooperating scientists will use to assess soil health indicators as they move toward standardization of soil health measurements.

To address the need for accurate, reliable and standardized soil health measurements, SHI — in collaboration with the Soil Health Partnership and The Nature Conservancy — received a $9.4 million grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research to match a similar amount provided by other donors to advance soil health science and implement soil health management practices.

According to Dr. Steven Shafer, SHI chief scientific officer, the lack of widely applicable measurements and methods for assessing soil health are significant barriers to adopting soil health practices and systems.

“Something you often hear scientists and managers say is, ‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure.’ In soil health, knowing how to measure is as important as what to measure. If we are to determine where our soils can be considered healthy or unhealthy or whether they are getting better or worse, we have to decide which properties we should measure and how to do that with the greatest accuracy," Shafer said.

"We will be testing soil health indicators using methods recommended by some of the best experts in the country in places where we have detailed records on agricultural production, land management practices and environmental conditions,” he explained. “That will tell us whether the indicators will provide the scientific support necessary for farmers, natural resource managers, agribusinesses, policy-makers and others who want to use soil health-promoting practices to make soil health the cornerstone for managing our soil, water and air resources.”

The concept of soil health is gaining widespread attention because it promotes agricultural practices that are not only good for the farmer and rancher but also good for the environment.

SHI convened a “blue-ribbon panel” of experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, several universities and the private sector to develop consensus on how each indicator should be measured.

Individuals and organizations engaged in long-term (minimum of 10 years) agricultural field experiments in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are encouraged to apply to participate in the soil health indicator assessment. Applications are due by May 31, 2018.

By the project's conclusion in 2020, SHI expects to have the data required for recommending scientifically sound soil health indicators to help farmers, scientists, agricultural policy-makers and others answer the fundamental question: Just how healthy are our soils?

For further information, visit the project website.

SHI's mission is to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement. The institute works with its many stakeholders to identify gaps in research and adoption; develop strategies, networks and funding to address those gaps, and ensure a beneficial impact of those investments to agriculture, the environment and society.

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