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New initiative to advance soil health research, management

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Every once in a while, a moment comes along that changes everything. A small idea sparks action. Action fosters collaboration. Momentum builds. And a movement is born.

On Nov. 13 and 14, a handful of men and women experienced the beginning of something profound, something I believe will reshape how we view, study and manage soil.

During those two days, 25 dedicated leaders from all walks of life—conventional and organic farmers, researchers, policymakers, university professors, and industry professionals—gathered at the Noble Foundation’s campus in Ardmore, Okla., for a soil symposium.

Sounds routine, I know, but the Noble Foundation and Farm Foundation, NFP, brought together a core group of the country’s leading experts to form a topsoil think tank.

The issue of soil health has been prominent in A Dialogue on Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century, a Farm Foundation initiative to promote discussions on what it will take for agriculture to feed 9 billion people in 2050 while protecting and maintaining natural resources. Many of these discussions quickly focused on soil health as the linchpin of agriculture in the next few generations.

The Noble Foundation has been focused on soil health since its inception. Having lived through the Dust Bowl, Lloyd Noble established the Noble Foundation in 1945 as a means to help protect the soil and safeguard the land for use by future generations. In defining his organization’s focus, he said: “No civilization has outlived the usefulness of its soils. When the soil is destroyed, the nation is gone.”

Both the Noble Foundation and Farm Foundation know one simple truth—soil is life. It is critical in sustaining and maintaining plant, animal and human health. It is the foundation from which all living things spring. It is one of our most precious and overlooked commodities. Yet it is too often ignored.

It is critical that producers—the people working directly with the land—be in close communication with researchers and policymakers to ensure that their challenges are recognized and our soils are protected and sustained for future generations.

This soil symposium did just that. It brought those parties together in one room with a simple purpose of settling on the best tools to measure, promote and research soil health.  That was the goal. The outcome was even greater.

In less than 48 hours, these dedicated individuals developed a Soil Health Initiative that has the potential to shape global soil health research and outcomes for the next several generations.

The first working group has already completed its assignment, reaching consensus on a definition of soil health: The continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Four other groups are now working to define a standard for measuring soil health; identifying opportunities for specific research work; drafting a white paper outlining the current state of soil health; and developing a strategic plan to advance soil health.

It’s just the beginning. But I believe it’s the beginning of something profound.

Bill Buckner Bill Buckner (
President and CEO of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation | Twitter | Facebook

View more posts by Bill Buckner

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.