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FOR THE PAST 7 years, the National Corn Growers Assn. and their partners have been working to increase the confident adoption of soil health management practices today and in the future through the Soil Health Partnership (SHP).
One critical key to confidence includes proving out the economic benefits — or lack of economic penalties — for adopting those practices. Assigning dollar values to soil health improvements remains a difficult task. Significant shifts in soil health usually take many years and measuring the impacts of those changes even longer. Though the road is long, SHP is working directly with farmers to compile an ever-growing base of on-farm data to discover where and when various practices prove beneficial.
SHP has grown from just 20 initial farmer partners to more than 200 on-farm research sites in 16 Midwest states.
Prior to establishing research trials, a field staff of agronomists collect comprehensive details about the practices of their farmer partners. Dates, rates, methods, soil types, crop history and dozens more data points are compiled. Then they discuss the economic and soil health goals for the farm. Together they set up farm trials to test out the strategies they settle on to achieve those goals. Methods being evaluated include nutrient management, reduced tillage and — the largest sector — adding cover crops.