Farmers are showing increasing interest in learning how improvements to soil health can benefit both the environment and the economic bottom line. While many questions still remain about the links between soil health, economic viability and environmental benefits—farmers know that soil health does not change overnight. It takes a commitment to embrace a new farming system and patience to watch your soil change over time.
The Soil Health Partnership began in 2014 as a way to help farmers better understand the improvements that can be made to their soils through a change in farming practices. An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the Partnership reaches out to a wide array of farmers with varying cropping systems to help understand their soils and what effects the cropping systems have on soil health.
Eighteen farmers are currently enrolled in Illinois, with the first group starting in 2014 and growing by about six per year in 2015 and 2016. Farmers enroll for a five-year period to see the cumulative effect practices such as cover crops can make to their soil. These farmers enroll a 20 – 80 acre field into the program and agree to do a replicated strip trial with a treatment versus control. The majority of SHP farmers in Illinois are testing cover crops, though the program is open to number of soil health practices. We take many measurements including routine soil tests, soil health tests, aerial imaging and yield data, along with economic data from farmers. The data are all collected to determine how the use of these practices can improve soil health and profitability over time.
We have a diverse group of farmers enrolled in The Soil Health Partnership, most in a corn-soybean rotation, but some are using other systems as well. Some farmers have been cover cropping for many years, while others are just starting with cover crops with their Soil Health Partnership fields. All farmers have an interest quantifying how these practices can improve their soils. Whether it is no-tilling soybeans into green cereal rye or determining how cover crops can fit into a more conventional tillage system, SHP farmers are helping to push forward conservation farming systems in their areas.
In addition to all this, Soil Health Partnership farmers work to put on a full slate of field days and meetings to discuss the costs and benefits of conservation practice with other farmers and agronomists in their area. Many topics are discussed including nutrient management, soil health and conservation cropping. Please visit soilhealthpartnership.org to find an event near you and to learn more about the Soil Health Partnership.