Soil Health Benchmark Study
Building and preserving soil health is a fundamental component of a secure food system that effectively protects ecosystems and communities.
The Soil Health Benchmark Study is designed to help farmers monitor and evaluate the nuanced soil health strengths and challenges that can exist simultaneously within their fields.
This on-farm research project developed and led by Pasa Sustainable Agriculture that empowers farmers with a comprehensive assessment of their soil health, and provides comparisons of soil health and management data between peer farms. The study, which began in Pennsylvania in 2016, has grown to include more than 100 farms across PA, ME and MD, and is poised to expand even further in 2023. Future Harvest and the Million Acre Challenge are proud to help grow this important research initiative.
Identifying soil health benchmarks helps farmers determine whether their soil health management practices are achieving the desired results, or where improvements may be possible.
In addition, farmers will be provided with opportunities to learn from one-another, and collaborate on innovative solutions to soil health management problems- through workshops, webinars and field-school programs.
Soil health indicators measured for the benchmark include physical, chemical and biological attributes, such as aggregate stability, organic matter, microbial respiration and nutrient levels. These soil attributes will then be placed in the context of field management techniques, including tillage frequency and intensity, cover cropping, and organic matter inputs.
Now in our fourth year of partnering on the benchmark study, Future Harvest and the Million Acre Challenge coordinate over 40 research collaborators from across five regions of Maryland, including diversified vegetable, pastured livestock and grain/row crop farms.
Learn about insights gleaned from the study HERE.
Future Harvest and the Million Acre Challenge participation in the Pasa Soil Health Benchmark Study has been possible thanks to generous support provided by the Town Creek Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Maine Community Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Who Can Participate:
If you own or manage a farm in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia* or West Virginia* and are passionate about improving your soil health, you are eligible to participate as a Community Scientist or Research Collaborator. Here’s the difference:
*to find out if you are in an eligible region, fill out the application form below
All farmers are eligible to participate in the project as a community scientist. As a community scientist, you will be able to collect your own soil samples and compare your results and measurements to our local and regional research benchmarks. You may choose to participate for only one year to better understand the current state of your soil health, or to participate for multiple years and track changes to your soil health over time. As a community scientist, you have the freedom to sample from the field(s) of your choice, and to choose between Basic or Standard Cornell soil test packages. You will receive community benchmark statistics that include data from our Soil Health Benchmark Study, which can be used to assess your efforts to improve soil health on your farm.
To participate as a Community Scientist, you’ll need to:
- Submit soil samples from your farm for testing by Cornell University’s Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health.
- Share the results of your soil health test with us
- Complete a brief survey about the fields you sampled
- Maintain field management records (optional)
Community Scientists receive community benchmark statistics that include data from our Soil Health Benchmark Study, which can be used to assess your efforts to improve soil health on your farm.
To participate as a Research Collaborator, you will agree to:
- Allow Future Harvest staff to collect soil samples from three fields (returning Collaborators may be asked to collect their own samples)
- Maintain and share detailed farm management records with us
- Participate in a workshop, field day or webinar
Research Collaborators receive:
- Free soil sampling on three fields from the Cornell Soil Health Lab (value $345)
- A detailed soil health benchmark report that details how your soil health outcomes and soil management practices compare to peer farms*
- Marketing tools that communicate the importance of your efforts to build soil health to your customers and stakeholders
Soil Health Benchmark Study Collaborators and Community Scientists will have opportunities to connect with peer farms through regional hubs, in order to learn from one-another and share practical and innovative solutions for soil health challenges. You’ll also be contributing to a growing body of soil health data, that farmers everywhere can use to benchmark their progress against.
How to Participate:
We are looking for a diverse array of different farm types from various regions throughout MD, VA, WV and DE. Please fill out this brief survey with some basic farm information, to find out if the Soil Health Benchmark Study is a good fit, for your farm, and for our research objectives.
Got questions? Contact Lisa Garfield at Lisa@futureharvest.org