FFAR awards $9.4 million to spur next leap in agriculture

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

On Dec. 5, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan support in the 2014 Farm Bill, announced a $9.4 million grant to the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership and The Nature Conservancy to improve soil health and, ultimately, support positive economic and environmental outcomes for American farmers. The grant will be matched by General Mills, the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, Monsanto, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and individual donors for a total investment of nearly $20 million.

The goal of this project is to support collaborative research and education that accelerates adoption and benefits of soil health management systems nationally. Soil health is a critical component of a productive and sustainable agricultural system. Farming practices that improve soil health can increase profitability while protecting natural resources like air and water for communities.

However, there is no standardized measurement for soil health in the United States; instead, different sets of measurements and methods can conflict and confuse farmers and field conservationists. Furthermore, many landowners of rented farmland are not aware of the benefits soil health improvements can deliver. This project will help the industry adopt standardized measurements to evaluate and improve soil health while expanding education and tools for local farmers, agronomists, and landowners.

“If we can unlock the potential of healthy soil, we can move closer to a sustainable agricultural system for everyone,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to harness the power of collaboration by supporting three leading organizations in this space for the long-term benefit of our nation’s farmers and food system.”

Collaborators will take an integrated, three-pronged approach. The Soil Health Institute will develop and test soil health measurements; the Soil Health Partnership will implement and evaluate soil health promoting practices on working farms; and The Nature Conservancy will work with non-operator landowners to encourage use of science-based soil health practices. The partners believe significant engagement with farmers and landowners will catalyze greater adoption of soil health promoting practices that benefit productivity, farmer livelihoods, and the environment.

“The needs for advancing soil health are far greater than any single organization can provide – public or private,” said Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute. “That’s why this project is so important. It leverages public funds authorized by Congress through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research with resources provided by other foundations and corporations through the combined capacities of the Soil Health Institute, Soil Health Partnership, and The Nature Conservancy. This kind of partnership creates a way to advance soil health for the benefit of all who need safe, high-quality products from agriculture, natural resources to sustain human and all other life, thriving communities, and a strong economy. In other words, it benefits everyone.”

“American agriculture has made extraordinary strides in technology and productivity in this century, but the next frontier is in soil health,” said Nick Goeser, director of the Soil Health Partnership. “This grant represents one of the largest investments ever made in soil health, one of the best tools we have to optimize productivity while minimizing environmental impact. It will allow us to expand our program to include more farmers who want to benefit from our body of work analyzing how practices like growing cover crops, reducing tillage and using advanced nutrient management can help family farms survive and thrive.”

“With a shared commitment to science and the improved soil health and productivity of America’s farmlands, we are pleased to be part of this collaboration,” said Larry Clemens, director of The Nature Conservancy’s North America Agriculture Program. “This grant awarded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and matched by generous contributors will not only advance the science of soil health, but we expect to see an increase in the adoption of on-field soil health practices. By engaging farmers and the landowners they rent from, we can help increase farm profitability and protect water and land resources.”

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.