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Assessment developed with support from the Soil Health Institute
Healthy soil often means a more productive farm, which can lead to a healthy bottom line. But how can you quantify the health of your soil?
Historically, the process has been complex and cost-prohibitive – with findings that didn’t always translate to clear direction for farmers.
“Up until the last couple of years, most soil health testing was highly detailed, and you had to be a soil scientist to interpret the 50 different data points,” said Matt Duncan, Senior Sustainability Science Lead with Truterra, LLC. “It was hard for people to decipher what they were supposed to focus on.”
Truterra set out to change that. “We wanted to develop an assessment that would be accessible for farmers and retailers; something that was understandable, actionable and ultimately, scalable,” he said.
With support from the Soil Health Institute, Truterra developed a soil health assessment focused on five key indicators (things like plant available water and mineralization potential), along with optimal ranges for different soil types and climate zones.
How it works
The Truterra™ soil health assessment gives farmers a real-time snapshot of an individual field’s soil health. “We collect specialized soil samples to quantify soil health from a chemical, physical and biological perspective,” said Matt. “Then we compare them to local benchmarks to better understand where the soil health level is – and where it could go with improved practices.”
In addition to lab results, Truterra provides specific, locally relevant recommendations to farmers and their ag retailers – implementing cover crops, or improving fertility and soil compaction management, for example.
“It’s very site-specific and focused on prioritizing the variables,” Matt added. The ranges in the report help farmers set ambitious yet realistic goals designed to guide management decisions and track progress over time (see sample report).
While the main benefit is to help improve operations, farmers who work to improve soil health can be better positioned to unlock new markets for ecosystem assets (like selling their carbon) when they’re ready.
Truterra is currently piloting the soil health assessment in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, with 40,000 enrolled acres. In spring of 2023, the pilot will expand to 250,000 acres across eight Midwest corn-growing states - from Kansas to Minnesota to Ohio.
“This is a multi-year effort, so we’ll continue to sample farmer fields over the next few years to build more data out, to give farmers a more holistic picture of their operation,” said Matt.
What’s the verdict? When shown the Truterra™ soil health assessment report farmers and retailers have been impressed with the insights provided, to the point we are getting participation requests from farmers and retailers well beyond our initial acreage target.
“The report is intuitive,” said Randy Brown, PhD. “I see numerous jumping-off points that our field team can use with farmers to help them make specific practice changes that can help make their farm more productive and profitable.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the Truterra™ soil health assessment, contact your local ag retailer.
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