The National Corngrowers Association started the Midwest Soil Health Partnership three years ago. Here’s what they say about the novel effort, supported at the beginning by Monsanto, The Walton Family Foundation and with technical support from The Nature Conservancy. Among its staff is Dan Towery, an agronomist from Indiana, who has been working with cover crops for decades and has been a consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Cover Crop project for more than a decade.
This spring, the organization begins in its third year identifying, testing and measuring farm management practices that improve soil health. These include growing cover crops, practicing conservation tillage like no-till or strip-till, and using sophisticated nutrient management techniques.
The program’s goal is to quantify the benefits of these practices from an economic standpoint, showing farmers how healthy soil benefits their bottom line. They also have positive environmental benefits, like protecting water from nutrient runoff.
Twenty-five more farms have joined the research effort, which could change the way the whole farming industry views agricultural best practices. The number of participating farms expands to 65 this year, located in eight Midwestern states. Data from farms will play a key role in widespread changes for improving soil health, said Towery, the Indiana field manager with partner Hans Kok, PhD.
From the Soil Health Partnership website, here is a goal statement:
Our ultimate goal is to measure and communicate the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies, and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms. To that end, we plan to do the following:
- Recruit a network of demonstration farms
that will serve as showcases for other farmers to investigate innovative soil management practices, including reduced tillage systems, cover crops and advanced nutrient management.
- Establish research protocols that will allow us to measure the connection between a diverse range of soil management practices and soil health.
- Publish findings and recommendations
that highlight the economic and environmental benefits of healthy soil.
- Support networking and technical assistance
that will help growers and their advisors make decisions that will result in positive changes for the profitability of their operation and the sustainability of the soil.