Digging In

SHP Staff

Total posts: 17
Last post: October 31, 2019 08:00

SHP Partners with GEMS to Store and Manage Data

By SHP Staff on  October 31, 2019 08:00
SHP Partners with GEMS to Store and Manage Data

“SHP looks forward to the partnership growing each year. The first year, we are focusing on securely storing and backing up data, connecting to other major data sets, and creating a data cleaning system for SHP yield data,” said Jack Cornell, SHP Field Team Director. “The second year, we hope to focus on utilizing the data cleaning system for our yield data and creating a platform for quick staff access to data.”

GEMS is a data sharing and analytical platform that enables public-private research collaborations for innovation in food and agricultural production, and other domain areas. The GEMS platform will enable SHP to securely store data, while providing and controlling access for research partners and collaborators. Within GEMS, users have access to tools to clean data, enable data interoperability, and apply advanced analytic methods to all of the diverse types of data that SHP currently collects and manages, such as soils data, management and socio-economic data, and yield data.

“We are excited to work with GEMS as we improve how we manage, integrate, and analyze data at SHP. Taking data management and integration to the next level will build our capacity to collect and analyze data and report results back to farmers, partners, and the agricultural community,” says SHP Lead Scientist, Dr. Maria Bowman.

GEMS is jointly led by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI) at the University of Minnesota, and the GEMS hardware and software resides in a secure data center managed by the MSI. The core platform is hosted in MSI’s local, secure, scalable cloud environment. 

"The GEMS team is really looking forward to working with SHP leadership on the crucial first steps of data cleaning and tool design. If done well, we can collectively enable farmers to make meaningful farm management decisions that improve soil health and crop productivity," commented GEMS Operations Manager, Kevin Silverstein.  

Dr. Aaron Brooker Joins SHP as Research Fellow

By SHP Staff on  October 1, 2019 08:00
Dr. Aaron Brooker Joins SHP as Research Fellow

“We are looking forward to having Dr. Brooker’s expertise onboard at SHP. He is going to be a great asset as he cleans and analyzes SHP yield data. SHP farmers will be seeing a lot of Dr. Brooker over the next year as he gets out in the field,” said Dr. Maria Bowman, SHP Lead Scientist. 

Dr. Brooker grew up in Waterford, Ohio on a small grain and livestock farm. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from The Ohio State University. He recently completed his Ph.D. at Michigan State University where he researched cover crops interseeded in corn in a unique project combining agronomy, weed science, soil health and remote sensing. 

“I am eager to review SHP’s data and identify how it can best serve SHP and farmers,” said Dr. Brooker. “I am passionate about identifying research activities that directly benefit farmers and have been fortunate to work closely with farmers and do a lot of on-farm research that has given me a greater understanding of the issues farmers are dealing with.” 

Aaron and his wife currently reside in Lansing, Michigan. He enjoys playing sports and being active outdoors in all seasons, whether it is swimming, camping and hiking in the summer, or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.


TNC: Championing Conversations Between Non-Operating Landowners and Farmers

By SHP Staff on  September 17, 2019 11:37
TNC: Championing Conversations Between Non-Operating Landowners and Farmers

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is an inverse correlation between highly rented farmland and adoption of no till practices. There are many different ownership structures that influences how management decisions are made, how the land is valued and how it is taken care of.

There is a strong level of trust between non-operating landowners and their farmer. Many operate on verbal leases or year to year leases, which present challenges and introduces uncertainty for both parties. The social dynamics in the non-operating landowner-farmer relationship are strong, and typically span through multiple generations. Non-operating landowners trust their farmer, value soil health and are looking to their farmer to guide them in making conservation recommendations. 

Because of the long-standing relationship, both parties are sensitive not to disrupt the agreement by suggesting major changes to management practices. 

According to a survey completed by American Farmland Trust and Utah State University, non-operating landowners are largely retired, a fair number of them still live on the farm, previously farmed or are from an agricultural background. They understand agriculture. Many active farmers utilize soil health practices on their land, but that transfer is not being seen on rented farmland.  

  • 80% of non-operating landowners said their farmer is the most important source for conservation information
  • 84% indicated that maintaining soil productivity is a very important quality for a farm
  • 87% indicate that they are committed to their farmer continuing to farm their land
  • 16 is the average number of years non-operating landowners have been working with their farmers 

TNC continues utilizing collaborative relationships to increase conversations between non-operating landowners and their farmers in regards to implementing conservation practices on more U.S. farmland. 

View the full Soil Sessions webinar where TNC discusses opportunities with non-operating landowners here

FFAR Investment Essential to SHP’s Growth

By SHP Staff on  September 5, 2019 08:00
FFAR Investment Essential to SHP’s Growth

The FFAR investment in SHP supports collaborative research and education that accelerates adoption and benefits of soil health management systems nationally. Soil health is a critical component of a productive and sustainable agricultural system. Farming practices that improve soil health can increase profitability while protecting natural resources like air and water for communities.

FFAR funding has positioned SHP to fully leverage the unique data set and build strong partnerships with the Soil Health Institute and The Nature Conservancy. SHP’s work is helping industry adopt standardized measurements to evaluate and improve soil health while increasing access to education and tools for local farmers, agronomists, and landowners.

Through FFAR’s support, SHP has strengthened existing research and expanded the SHP team to maintain quality data collection and farmer engagement. The expanded SHP team allows increased collaboration with varying organizations and farmers in new geographies to better access where SHP can best serve a larger audience of growers. Increasing the SHP network opens opportunities where improvement is needed and identifies where farmers’ greatest needs reside. 


The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a farmer-led initiative fostering transformation in agriculture through improved soil health. SHP has grown from 17 active farms in 2014 to 220 active farms in 2019. SHP represents around 6,000 acres, spans across 16 states and partners with over 100 organizations at the federal, state and county levels. Join us as we reflect on the past five years and celebrate the opportunities ahead!

Teeter Joins SHP as Minnesota Field Manager

By SHP Staff on  August 26, 2019 08:00
Teeter Joins SHP as Minnesota Field Manager

“Anna is a great addition to the SHP Field Manager team. Her extensive experience working with diverse farming operations will bring a great perspective to Minnesota farmers,” commented SHP Field Team Director, Jack Cornell.

Anna received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison double majoring in Agronomy and Life Science Communication. Throughout her undergrad, Anna worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Forage Extension Specialist and gained experience working with a diverse group of farming operations. Additionally, Anna served as a Crop Scout at Tilth Agronomy out of Appleton, Wisconsin. Her combination of experience and education demonstrates her passion for communicating science. 

“I am passionate about agriculture and enjoy opportunities to talk about science in an understandable way. I did not grow up on a farm, but my grandfather was a farmer and would tell stories about his operation. Working with farmers is my passion, and I am eager to get started,” said Teeter.

She grew up in Wisconsin and developed a passion for agriculture after showing horses in 4-H. Anna enjoys hiking, camping, and gardening in her free time.



Saving the Soil

By SHP Staff on  August 20, 2019 08:00
Saving the Soil

“After some of my research I realized that cover crops opened a book of possibilities in preventing erosion and weed suppression. Those are some of the main issues we face in our area,” said Theo. 

During the last five years, Theo has started to implement cover crops and no-till in more of their fields, mostly using cereal rye. After a wet spring, the benefits of cover crops have left even more of an impact. 

“My dad first used cover crops after we harvested silage in the fall of 2012. The next spring we had some big thunderstorms, and the cover crops held the soil together. We had very little signs of erosion, where in some of our other fields without cover crops we had some pretty major issues,” said Theo.

Additionally, the weed suppression has limited the amount of herbicide applied to their fields. The soil structure has also made getting crops planted during the wet spring a lot easier. 

“It seems we’ve had three once in a lifetime storms in the last five years, which makes it all the more important to save the soil and prevent it from ending up in the rivers because once you lose it, it’s hard to get back,” said Theo.

Being a member of SHP since the beginning, Theo has seen the program grow and become something that has really added to his operation. “Networking with other farmers and learning about what works for them while receiving data from your fields are by far the best rewards of being an SHP farmer,” said Theo.


The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a farmer-led initiative fostering transformation in agriculture through improved soil health. SHP has grown from 17 active farms in 2014 to 220 active farms in 2019. SHP represents around 6,000 acres, spans across 16 states and partners with over 100 organizations at the federal, state and county levels. Join us as we reflect on the past five years and celebrate the opportunities ahead!

Poley joins SHP as Michigan Research Manager

By SHP Staff on  August 14, 2019 08:00
Poley joins SHP as Michigan Research Manager

Kristin grew up in Sturgis, Michigan on a Christmas tree farm. She attended Michigan State University majoring in Fishery and Wildlife Biology with a focus on Conservation Biology. She then began working in the Entomology lab at Michigan State University which led Kristen to pursue a Master’s degree in Entomology focusing in Organic Pest Management. While working in the lab she studied mostly apples and a wide variety of vegetables. After wrapping up her Master’s degree, she worked for over three years in the Nematology lab on the Michigan State Campus where she studied Nematode management and soil health. Kristin now resides in St. Johns, Michigan with her husband, Nathan on a few acres raising chickens, geese, and ducks. 

Kristin will be in a joint research position with Michigan Corn and SHP. Her main responsibility is to build research partnerships to answer key soil health and water quality issues working closely with SHP lead scientist, Maria Bowman  She will also be the liaison for the SHP expansion into Michigan, augmenting the existing site, and support analysis of data already being collected throughout the multi-state network. This role represents the joint support of Michigan Corn, SHP and Michigan TNC.  

“Agriculture in this era presents challenges to growers, markets and the general public,” said Kristin. “Being able to work as part of a team that takes a focus on sustainability to overcome those challenges makes me really excited to get to work.”

"Partnerships are core to our work at SHP. Thus, ensuring we work closely with our existing and new partners is critical,” said Executive Director Shefali Mehta. “I'm pleased that Kristin is joining  Michigan Corn through this unique role that will expand our research and knowledge of soil health in Michigan."

SHP Participates in Senate Agriculture Committee Briefing

By SHP Staff on  August 12, 2019 09:18
SHP Participates in Senate Agriculture Committee Briefing

Ecosystem Services Market Consortium Executive Director, Debbie Reed, moderated the briefing hosted by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The briefing educated a large, diverse group of hill staffers interested in learning more about how farming practices are helping make farmers more resilient in the face of a changing climate. She highlighted the various soil health practices that contribute to “climate smart” practices utilized in agricultural production. These practices contribute to both climate change mitigation as well as adaptation. 

“Our goal is to meet the needs of our farmers as they add more ‘tools’ to their toolkit in the face of changing economic conditions, changes in the structure of agriculture in the United States, and a changing climate,” Mehta said. “The farmers who work with SHP and the organizations that support us do so because they recognize that we need more information about how to implement practices that are effective, feasible for farmers to implement, and have climate and environmental benefits. However, we can not do this alone. The contribution and involvement of government agencies, as well as private companies and others along the food and ag value chain is critical. Agriculture crosses many sectors, and thus, takes the work of many groups working together to find innovative and impactful solutions.” 

Mehta also outlined the various private investments made by farmers with public benefit outcomes. Mehta concluded, “Through strong, outcome-based collaborations, like ours, we are learning about the economic impacts to farmers and ways to improve adoption by mitigating risks and improving the bottom line. By supporting farmers making these investments, we increase the overall well-being of farmers and society overall.”

We thank the bipartisan Senate Agriculture Committee for continuing to highlight this key topic and look forward to sharing more about what farmers are doing and how we can work together to find tenable solutions.

Register for the upcoming Soil Session: U.S. Crop Update and Scouting Tips

By SHP Staff on  July 25, 2019 12:45
Register for the upcoming Soil Session: U.S. Crop Update and Scouting Tips

Mother Nature has provided a challenging growing season. John Stewart, Central and Southern Indiana Field Manager and Abigail Peterson, Southern Illinois and Missouri Field Manager, will review regional crop updates provided by other SHP Field Managers and discuss agronomics and scouting tips relative to this unique growing season. 

This webinar will discuss:

  • How to scout fields with cover crops during planting
  • What to expect with a late harvest
  • Drone scouting techniques and strategies

Click here to register now!

If you are unable to join live, please still register, as a recording of the webinar will be distributed following the webinar. All Soil Sessions are recorded and can be viewed any time. 

Visit our website or YouTube channel to watch previous Soil Sessions, and subscribe to our email list to never miss a Soil Session invitation.  

Statement from the Soil Health Partnership

By SHP Staff on  July 3, 2019 14:06


When SHP first publicly presented aggregated results of SOM increases over time across our network at our Soil Health Summit in 2019, the magnitude of these increases was met with skepticism by some collaborators and members of the SHP Science Advisory Committee.  At that time, our Lead Scientist Maria Bowman called the Cornell Soil Health Lab to discuss the increases SHP was seeing in the data, and to inquire about whether there were any changes in methods or analysis at the Lab that might be responsible for an inflated result.  Bowman was assured that this was unlikely due to the Lab’s quality control procedures.

Given Cornell’s reputation as a leader in the space, SHP was confident that Cornell was sharing what they knew and also that they instituted sufficient quality checks such that SHP could trust the results we had received.

How does this affect SHP’s results?
The data quality issue occurred because Cornell began outsourcing the nutrient analysis portion of their soil health test, including OM analysis, to another lab in March 2018. Although the Lab used the Cornell analysis methods, the Lab made a data processing error that resulted in overestimated percent SOM values starting in March of 2018. Cornell submitted corrected SOM  results to the Soil Health Partnership on June 27, the same day we were alerted of the issue.

As we re-analyze the data, it does not change the overall conclusion, which is that SHP sees a statistically significant increase in SOM, on average, on the treatment fields participating in the Soil Health Partnership trials; 0.17%-0.21% over the first 2-3 years in the program.  The estimated increases are not as high as the initial analyses indicated. However, the results still clearly show the impact of soil health management systems across the SHP network of sites and at scale across diverse geographies, soil types and trial types.

Moving forward, SHP commits to further review of all quality assurance and quality control protocols of the labs we work with, including requesting that we be notified in writing of any changes to lab protocols or procedures.  We also see this as an opportunity to continue working with our several lab partners as they continue to grow and evolve and hope we can support them as they continue to build their capacity as the soil health arena develops.  This also shines a light on the need for continued support and funding of critical capacity at land grant and related entities that are meet these needs for farmers.

We feel it is important to share this issue directly. The Soil Health Partnership understands our great responsibility to collect and analyze data leading to the release of accurate insights from our research. Farmers make economic decisions based on our insights and we do not take that role lightly. The interest in, and enthusiasm for, continued learning about the science and economics of soil health means we must all communicate clearly about the strengths and limitations of our work.  These matters of scientific integrity should be dealt with quickly and clearly and recognize our partner, the Cornell Soil Health Lab, for their clear communication and correction of this issue.