The Soil Renaissance: Knowledge to Sustain Earth’s Most Valuable Asset

The Soil Renaissance was initiated 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. This project was a collaboration of Farm Foundation and the Noble Research Institute.

The work of the Soil Renaissance lead to the creation of the Soil Health Institute, an independent 501(c)3 working to enhance and maintain soil health through sound practices and research.

A Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan was developed with input from thought leaders working in production agriculture, agribusiness, the academic community, NGOs and government agencies.  The Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan outlined goals and work plans in four key areas: Measurement, Economics Research and Education.  The Strategic Plan was a  starting point that evolved and expand as work was developed. That evolution lead to the creation of the Soil Health Institute.

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. A wide-ranging discussion on the role of science and technology in agriculture and the food system 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. 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 Strategic Planning Team 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.

A vision and mission statement were written, 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 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.”

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