The Soil Renaissance: Knowledge to Sustain Earth's Most Valuable Asset
The Soil Renaissance seeks to reawaken the public to the importance of soil health in vibrant, profitable and sustainable natural resource systems. It seeks to make maintenance and improvement of soil health the cornerstone of land use management decisions.
A Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan has been developed with input from thought leaders working in production agriculture, agribusiness, the academic community, NGOs and government agencies. The Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan outlines goals and work plans in four key areas: Measurement, Economics Research and Education.
“This Strategic Plan is a starting point that will evolve and expand as work is completed, new challenges are identified and more individuals and groups join the Soil Renaissance,” said Neil Conklin, President of Farm Foundation, NFP. Farm Foundation and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation are leading the Soil Renaissance but collaboration among diverse stakeholders will be key to its success.
“For the Soil Renaissance to meet its full potential, it will require multiple individuals and organizations,” says Noble Foundation President and CEO Bill Buckner. “Many groups already are working in specific areas of soil health. The Soil Renaissance is a central hub through which people can learn what’s now being done, gaps to be filled and ways they can help.”
Without healthy soils, the task of feeding the world’s people becomes even more challenging. The Initiative evolved from discussions by 25 leaders representing conventional and organic agriculture, science and research, land managers and policymakers about the best tools to advance soil health. This group identified the four pillars around which the Soil Renaissance is built: Measurement, Economics, Research and Education/Outreach.
Those thought leaders then enlisted other stakeholders to be part of the Strategic Planning Team. Their efforts produced the vision and mission statement, as well as the guiding principles for Soil Renaissance work, all of which are outlined in the Strategic Plan. This Team set goals in each of the work areas, identifying objectives and strategies to achieve each goal.
The first task of the Soil Renaissance team was to agree on a definition of soil health. After lengthy discussion, the team adopted the definition used by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): The continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.
"This definition is used by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service,” explains Working Group Chair David Lindbo, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University and President of the Soil Science Society of America. “It sounds simple, but establishing a basis of understanding of what soil health concerns is the first step to move forward with universal acceptance of soil health as a critical need.”
The Strategic Planning Team has identified goals in each of the four key work areas:
- Measurement: To incorporate soil health measures into standardized soil testing that is readily available, affordable and commercial viable.
- Economics: To quantify the effects of soil health on economic risks and returns.
- Education: To reawaken the public to the importance of soil health.
- Research: To convene the research community to advance soil health.
Objectives and strategies have been outlined in each area. Details of the Strategic Plan are available, and will be updated as work progresses.
The Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan is a starting point that will evolve as work is completed, new challenges are identified and more individuals and organizations join the Soil Renaissance. The Soil Renaissance serve as a central hub through which interested parties can learn about work in progress, gaps to be filled and ways to help.
Anyone interested in contributing expertise or time to the work teamsshould contact Soil Health Project Coordinator Brook Gaskamp.
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The issue of soil health became prominent in discussions of A Dialogue on Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century, a Farm Foundation initiative to promote discussions on the challenges to be addressed if agriculture is to feed 9 billion people in 2050 while protecting and maintaining natural resources. Buckner, a Dialogue Project Steering Committee member, was part of wide-ranging discussions on the role of science and technology in agriculture and the food system, which quickly focused on soil health. Those discussions were the seed for the Soil Renaissance. Soil health has been a focus of the Noble Foundation since its inception in 1945.