Digging In

SHP Staff

Total posts: 12
Last post: August 20, 2019 08:00

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.

Mesko joins SHP as Development Director

By SHP Staff on  June 18, 2019 07:47
Mesko joins SHP as Development Director

John grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in Minnesota, gaining a passion for farming and tremendous respect for farmers.  After graduating from Purdue University with a Bachelor's degree in agronomy and a Masters degree in agricultural economics, John’s diverse career in agriculture has centered around helping farmers become more financially and environmentally sustainable.  He served as a sales agronomist and technical information manager for Mycogen Seeds. As a County Extension Director for Purdue University, his work centered on farm management and developing new markets for farmers. In addition to raising and selling grass-fed beef and lamb for a dozen years, John has led two sustainability-minded nonprofits: the Sustainable Farming Association and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. John now resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Globally, agriculture has the single greatest impact on the environment.  By focusing on soil health, we have the opportunity to be a force for good.  Our efforts can not only lead to an abundance of food for a growing population, but we can improve the capacity of our environment to mitigate climate change, improve water quality and sustain these and other positive outcomes.” shared John. “Farmers are the original caretakers of the environment.  SHP’s work to learn about and promote soil health building practices in real-world, on-farm contexts puts farmers at the center of the discussion of these important global environmental issues.”

In this role, John will build and maintain SHP’s broad spectrum of partnerships, expanding the resource base for the important work of building soil health and creating a sustainable future for farming and food. He joins a strong national team that is focused on identifying and sharing the economic and environmental benefits of varied soil management strategies and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms.

“Sustainability, in part, means practices which are profitable for farmers,” John said. “With our focus on on-farm testing, we are looking for partners who want to play a lead role supporting farmers in the development and promotion of solutions which work for farmers.”

"Partnerships are core to our work at SHP. Thus, ensuring we continue to work closely with our existing and new partners is critical,” said Executive Director Shefali Mehta. “I'm pleased that John is joining SHP and bringing his passion and experience to our young and growing organization."  

Minnesota Corn continues commitment to soil health

By SHP Staff on  June 13, 2019 11:27
Minnesota Corn continues commitment to soil health

We are organized around 3 core impact areas:

  • On-farm engagement
  • Science and data
  • Communication and outreach

Soil Health Partnership's core impact for farmers

Thus, the work at the state level is critical to driving impact and ensuring we fulfill our mission. As shared over the past few weeks, state corn associations are stepping forward with creative solutions and collaborations to connect us with state partners, build on existing work and leverage the local knowledge and expertise.

In 2018, Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council granted SHP a 3-year grant to build out 4 more Minnesota sites. This gracious support will help establish a strong soil health network in one of the largest corn producing states.

“Minnesota’s corn farmers have a goal to become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible corn farmers in the nation,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Brian Thalmann. “To help accomplish this mission, we have worked with the Soil Health Partnership to find solutions that promote soil health in a way that leaves our land productive for future generations while protecting water quality. We are proud to be able to connect innovative corn farmers in our state with the Soil Health Partnership, and we look forward to producing the insights that will greatly benefit corn farmers and the environment.”

SHP understands the importance of a localized approach.

“As a farmer in Minnesota, I feel it’s my duty to be the best steward of the land as possible. Soil Health Partnership educates myself and others to fulfill this goal,” said SHP farmer partner Brian Ryberg.

SHP Field Managers are working to understand and share the impact of practices as they pertain to different regions across the U.S.

“The principles of soil health will still apply in northern states, but we need to continue to research new ways to implement the practices to achieve them. The ingenuity of farmers to overcome the obstacles for implementation is amazing and we look forward to helping support those efforts on the farm, in real-world situations in Minnesota,” said Jim Iserman, SHP Field Manager.

Thanks to support like Minnesota Corn’s, we have a way to collect more valuable data to analyze and share the economic and environmental benefits of various soil management strategies and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven insights that farmers can utilize to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms.


Byerly Joins SHP as Kansas & Nebraska Field Manager

By SHP Staff on  June 12, 2019 12:18
Byerly Joins SHP as Kansas & Nebraska Field Manager

“I am really impressed with Keith’s experience of communicating his agronomic knowledge to the growers in his region across various platforms,” said Jack Cornell, Field Team Director. “SHP is dedicated to continually helping farmers make more informed decisions to become more productive in their operations, and Keith is going to help us provide Kansas and Nebraska farmers with local support.”

Keith graduated with a degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in 2001 and has been a Certified Crop Advisor since 2002. Keith spent the last eighteen years working for a cooperative that served multiple states out of Nebraska. For fifteen years, he has been a Precision Ag Manager focusing on data services, prescriptions, and hardware.

Raised on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, Keith holds a special appreciation for soil, groundwater, and irrigation management. He now resides with his wife and their two children on an acreage near his wife’s hometown of Bloomfield, Nebraska.

“After almost 20 years working in agriculture on the Western Plains, it has deepened my appreciation for managing our resources, like soil and water, for optimum efficiency,” shared Keith. “I joined SHP because I saw a great opportunity to be part of a team that was working to improve our use and regeneration of the soil that we all rely on. I am looking forward to being part of the team that makes farming possible and productive for future generations.”

In this role, Keith will work closely with existing SHP farmers as well as establishing new sites. The SHP looks to expand its footprint in Nebraska by working more closely with corn farmers.  Kansas is one of the first states for SHP partner wheat sites. The SHP will continue to build on the network for both corn and wheat in the coming years.

Keith augments a strong Field Team that is focused on supporting the farmers on a host of areas including identifying and sharing the economic and environmental benefits of varied soil management strategies and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms.

“We are excited to have Keith on board. He will play a critical role in helping us better understand the impact of various practices on the diverse soils in Kansas and Nebraska,” states Shefali Mehta, Executive Director.  “He will also help us to build on strong partnerships with many organizations that continue to be focused on soil health in the region. We are looking forward to Keith bringing his experience and knowledge as we continue to build SHP.”

Rose joins SHP as Program Specialist

By SHP Staff on  May 8, 2019 14:26
Rose joins SHP as Program Specialist

In this role, Tracy will support the SHP team, especially the National team, on scheduling, coordination and connecting with external partners.  Tracy is also the main support for Executive Director Shefali Mehta and Lead Scientist Maria Bowman.

“This is one position that organizations often overlook. I, too, needed my team’s reminder to see the importance of developing a role to coordinate the comprehensive logistics of SHP’s many moving parts,” said Executive Director Shefali Mehta. “We are excited to gain Tracy’s wealth of experience and expertise.”

Tracy previously worked as an executive assistant for eight years in the financial industry.

A St. Louis native, Tracy has two grown children and four well-loved dogs.

2019 Soil Sampling Protocol

By SHP Staff on  April 18, 2019 07:00
2019 Soil Sampling Protocol

This year, SHP has updated our soil sampling protocols further. Five years of experience and a growing network has taught us much. The soil sampling and science space has also evolved during that time so we are able to take advantage of new science and development to bring to our farmers.

To further support our Partner sites, we have updated our soil protocol to align with our testing labs and provide the most accurate data. Depending on when the farm started with the program, soil samples collected will be analyzed for standard soil nutrients and/or key soil health indicators at one or more independent, national soil laboratories. Several analysis markers will be utilized to establish a baseline soil characterization for our long-term soil health data recommendations:

A 1-acre grid sampling map will be provided to each cooperator to facilitate the soil sampling. Each grid map will have individually assigned grid sampling points and will follow a pre-assigned naming convention provided by SHP. All samples will be a composite of 12 soil cores, collected in a 30’ circle around the established sample point, with one sample at a depth of 0-2 inches and the other at 2-6 inches. Soil Health Test for Cornell and Soil Health Nutrient Tool will be a composite sample of 0-6 inch soil cores from each grid point within each different farm management strip. To collect high-quality samples Soil Health Partnership Field Managers are more than happy to assist growers with any questions and provide field assistance.

Learn more about our 2019 soil sampling protocol, visit our resources tab.