Two months ago, we used this space to call on policy makers to reinforce the drive by producers to improve soil health – a burgeoning interest among U.S. farmers in recent years. Farmer commitment to soil health will be critical in U.S. agriculture’s efforts to meet an exploding demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel by a global population expected to grow by some 25 percent by 2050.
In our May blog post, we stated that policies must be implemented that enable producers to scale up practices that boost production on existing croplands, while reducing runoff into neighboring waters, increasing organic content and enhancing biodiversity, nutrient cycling and other ecosystem services.
Fortunately, earlier this month, the Soil Health Institute (SHI) offered a broad assessment of where those efforts now stand, making available a catalog of the heath enabling policies, programs and research currently taking root across the country.
The catalog shows that soil health initiatives are growing in number and importance and brings together efforts that are widely dispersed among academic institutions, state agencies and legislative bodies. The list can facilitate discussion among agronomic experts and policy makers, promoting cross-pollination, learning and coordination. Most importantly, it will help agricultural leaders in the field to quickly find action-focused resources.
Researchers who compiled the catalog rightly point out that sustainable solutions start with local and regional stakeholders communicating and making change, and they hope the list will encourage local communication among academic, state agency and legislative stakeholders to improve soil health.
The catalog serves as a helpful resource for anyone interested in developing state-level soil health policies and programs, giving them the opportunity to learn and build from what others have already done. It provides a strong indication of the growing momentum of the soil health movement.
An informative overview not included in the catalog is a report issued this week that explores conservation practices in Missouri that help build productive, healthier soils. SOIL SOLUTIONS: Climate-Smart Farming in the Show Me State was published by Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting on the changing climate and its impact on the public. The publication comes in response to the rise in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that is making it more difficult to grow crops and raise livestock in Missouri.
The report examines how conservation practices can provide win-win outcomes for producers and the environment. Conservation practices not only improve resiliency, they also sequester carbon. Using estimates from scientists and data analysts, the report shows how much carbon could potentially be stored in the soil each year through various conservation practices.
The momentum behind the soil health movement is encouraging and is a primary pathway in scaling up land-based solutions to global challenges, the mission of Solutions from the Land. Farmers and ranchers who make their livings and homes on the lands they work and steward should be at the center of efforts to develop consensus around state-specific soil health programs. It’s an effort that we support and one that can foster a wide range of economic, environmental and public health benefits.