Many growers in the semi-arid parts of the Great Plains are getting used to hearing that improving soil health will help them store more water in the soil for their plants.

But with the next drought seemingly looming around the corner at any time, many of growers guard soil moisture down to the last drop and might be skeptical of soil health claims.

But a decision tool being developed and tested is expected to allow farmers to explore how to build soil carbon and improve drought resilience.

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) says farmers know of the relationship between practices to increase soil organic carbon and drought resilience, but equations in soil science literature haven’t shown this relationship.

As a result, farmers have not had a tool that estimates how a management practice will change their farm’s drought resilience.

New data from the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health has allowed SHI scientists to create new equations that capture the link between carbon and plant-available water. They have newly collected data that includes the effects of soil health-promoting practices and soil structure.

Colorado State University, the NRCS and SHI developed the decision support tool to be a part of the online CarbOn Management and Emissions Tool (COMET-Farm). Currently in beta version, the tool lets farmers calculate changes in plant-available water that are driven by soil health management practices, such as no-till or cover crops.

Dianna Bagnall, a research soil scientist for SHI, discusses this new tool in this video that aired during the Institute’s 5th annual meeting in 2020.

Knowing the fickleness of Great Plains weather, it might be worth it to keep an eye out for the release soon so you’ll have another tool in your toolbox to keep your farm operation resilient and profitable.