Soil Health Roadmap Could Deliver Billions

Kelly MarshallAg Group, Soil

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-8-11-03-amThe Nature Conservancy has been working with General Mills on a project called the Soil Health Roadmap.  With funding from General Mills, the organizations have put together a group of Conservancy scientists, economists and agriculture experts to create a Roadmap to sustainable, healthy soil.  The project builds a case for economic benefits for U.S. farmers and businesses and outlines the environmental advantages for future generations.

“Healthy soils are the cornerstone of life on Earth, yet they are increasingly rare with less than 10 percent of U.S. soils managed optimally today,” said Michael Doane, Director of Transforming Working Lands for The Nature Conservancy. “With increasing demands on our lands to produce more food, fuel and fiber, now is the time to rethink soils and invest in the science, new business models and policy signals that can restore the long-term health and sustainability of our soils.”

The Soil Health Roadmap contains 10 key factors towards meeting the goal of adoption of healthy soil practices on more than 50 percent of U.S. cropland by 2025.

“As a global food company, it’s imperative to protect the natural resources and communities upon which our business depends. In our case, the foundation is soil health,” said Jerry Lynch, Chief Sustainability Officer at General Mills. “The goal is to provide a thoughtful strategy, raise awareness about the critical role that soil health plays in environmental sustainability and to encourage transformation in agricultural supply chains. We cannot do this alone. But, together, we can get on a path to healthier soil and more sustainable agriculture systems.”

At full adoption, Conservancy scientists estimate nearly $50 billion in societal benefits could be realized annually. At 50 percent adoption, improved soil health would provide $1.2 billion in annual net economic gains for farmers, and $7.4 billion in water and climate benefits. These benefits include: 

  • Mitigating 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent to taking 5 million passenger cars off the road for one year
  • Reducing 344 million pounds of nutrient loss to the environment
  • Eliminating 116 million metric tons of soil erosion
  • Creating 3.6 million acre-feet of available water capacity in cropland soils

“We know how to build healthier soils, and the benefits are real. It is simply a better way to farm” said Tim Smith, an Iowa farmer implementing soil health practices with technical assistance from the Conservancy. “I am protecting my soil from erosion, greatly reducing my impact on water quality by reducing nitrate and phosphorus loss, and improving soil health that will provide for the long term sustainability of the land.”