FFAR Grant Spurs Milestone for Farm Productivity

Soil Health Institute Announces Methods for Evaluating Soil Health at a Continental Scale,
Anticipates Actionable Data for Farmers, Ranchers and Policymakers by 2020

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2018 – 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.

The lack of widely-applicable measurements and methods for assessing soil health has been a significant barrier to evaluating and adopting soil health practices and systems and ultimately ensuring sustainable agricultural productivity in the long term.

To address this need the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded the Soil Health Institute (SHI), in collaboration with the Soil Health Partnership and The Nature Conservancy, a $9.4 million grant to advance soil health science and implement soil health management practices. The grant was matched by additional donors for a total investment of nearly $20 million. A full press release for the project can be found here.

A major goal for the project is to assess the ability of soil health indicators to detect differences in properties of soils that have been managed in different ways for at least 10 years. To gather useful data, it became necessary to identify the particular analytical method for each indicator being evaluated in the project. The Institute convened a panel of experts from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), several universities and the private sector to develop consensus on how each of 19 soil health indicators should be measured.

“The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research applauds the Soil Health Institute for establishing standard soil health measurements that will be applicable across geographies,” said Sally Rockey, executive director, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “This milestone, made possible by a FFAR grant, lays important groundwork for critical innovation in the future that will equip farmers and policymakers to make data-driven decisions to optimize soil health and long term agricultural productivity.”

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

FFAR is supporting this collaborative project through its Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area, which aims to increase soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation and enabling adoption of existing or novel practices that improve soil health. To date, FFAR has awarded more than $13 million in grants and leveraged an additional $15 million from partners to improve soil health through innovative research.

Get Involved

SHI encourages individuals and organizations who are engaged in long-term (minimum 10-year) agricultural field experiments in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and interested in participating to visit the SHI website and submit an application to participate in the project by May 31, 2018.

Learn more.

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity

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Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss

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About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability

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Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems

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The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.