Conservation Practices

Benchmarking and Integrating Soil Health, Water Quality and Climate-Smart Footprints of Illinois Soybeans

This multi-year project will identify soil health, water quality and climate footprint best practices and metrics across regions and cropping systems (soy and double-cropped wheat, soy rotated with corn). Findings will inform practice-based recommendations that protect soil health and water quality, as well as provide insights farmers can use as they navigate carbon markets.

Project Information

  • What are tangible metrics across the various soybean-growing environments in Illinois that demonstrate improvements to soil health?
  • How do soil health practices correlate to quantifiable improvements in water quality; soil health via biological, chemical and physical soil health tests; nutrient utilization; GHG emissions; and soil carbon sequestration?
  • How do different cropping system environments (e.g., soil type) and management practices influence soybean’s net carbon footprint, yield performance and net profitability?
  • Southern Illinois: Ewing (Franklin County)
  • Central Illinois: Urbana (Champaign County)
  • Northwest Illinois: Monmouth (Warren County)
  • While farmers are interested in soil health, sustainability practices and carbon credit markets, they are also skeptical due to the lack of clear metrics, industry claims and data interpretation. Because of the various cropping systems and growing environments in Illinois, farmers demand more than generalizations.
  • Implementing soil health practices during the soybean phase of crop rotations and quantifying how they can improve soil, water and environmental quality can help move the needle on adoption. In addition, providing tangible metrics around nutrient fixation, carbon sequestration and GHG emissions can provide farmers with a clearer picture of how to approach carbon markets.
  • Establishing these metrics can empower and/or inspire more Illinois soybean farmers to adopt soil health practices, position the sustainability of Illinois soybeans in national and global markets, and lay the foundation for Illinois soybeans to capitalize on rapidly emerging carbon markets.
  • This research project is designed to deliver hard, field-based data farmers can use to inform management decisions to achieve different outcomes.
  • Farmers will have a clearer view of how tillage and cover cropping practices specifically interact across the three major soil and climate regions of Illinois. This will give them insights into the potential trade-offs between soil health and yield based on tillage and cover crop practices, as well as understand when it makes economic sense (or not) to take advantage of carbon and other ecosystem credit programs.
  • Awaiting 2023 final yield, greenhouse gas (GHG), leaching and soil health data following soybean harvest in late October/early November
  • In-season observations:
    • Cover-cropped soybeans showed spotty germination and slower growth throughout the season, likely due to water deficit from the cereal rye cover crop
    • Double-cropped soybeans were late to germinate due to very low moisture in the top 6” to 8” of soil, indicating a potential risk to double-cropped soybeans in dry mid-summers with low surface soil moisture
  • Dr. Talon Becker, Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture, University of Illinois
  • Michael Douglass, Research Specialist, UIUC
  • Heidi Allen Asensio, PhD Student, UIUC
  • Natacha de Gracias Fuentes, Field/Lab Technician, UIUC
  • Guadalupe Gonzalez Delgado, Field/Lab Technician, UIUC

About the Lead Researcher

Dr. Andrew Margenot
Associate Professor
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

Are you a farmer or advisor?

If you’re a farmer or advisor, we invite you to take our Soybean Production Concerns Survey linked below to help guide future ISA research efforts. We also encourage you to contact us below with specific production challenge research ideas.

Are you a researcher?

If you’re a researcher interested in working with ISA on a project, we encourage you to contact us with your ideas. The RFP will open in early March. Contact us below to be added to the mailing list for more information.