Digging In

Podcast: Pipa Elias and allies in conservation

By SHP Staff on Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

The People of Soil Health Podcast host John Mesko spoke with Pipa Elias, the Director of Agriculture in North America for The Nature Conservancy

Elias received her master’s degree in soil science, but started her career in policy, which led to her explaining the science of soil at the U.N. climate negotiations. She was working in a coalition with TNC which is how she ended up moving over to work with them. 

TNC believes farmers are among their greatest allies in conservation. 

“Our vision is a future in which both people and nature thrive. To me there is not a better connection between people and nature than agriculture,” Elias said. “We all need to eat and we can do so in a way when we’re promoting soil health that really benefits people and nature.”

Mesko and Ellias discuss the opportunity for agriculture to create solutions and one tool TNC has to measure that is the Optimal Tillage Information System, known as OTIS. The automated system shows the progress of soil health practices like cover crops and reduced tillage through remote sensing. OTIS imagery data can then be put into models to show what it means for water quality and carbon sequestration across a watershed, county, state or the country. The watershed scale data is available publicly at https://ctic.org/optis.

Mesko shares that SHP is working to quantify the benefits of soil health practices. Both SHP and TNC are both members of Ecosystem Services Market Consortium. While Elias admits it’s been tried before, she is excited about the potential to incentivize farmers for their work in improving soil health systems that benefits society. She believes we are in a place now to move forward because of new technology and more ambition to create a market along with paying farmers for improving water quality and addressing climate change. TNC is interested in developing capacity so when the market comes online farmers can participate. They are working on technical pieces and public investment.

Elias introduced Mesko to the book the Wizard and the Profit by Charles Mann. It follows the paths of Norman Borlaug and William Vogt who took two different approaches to challenges humanity faces. Borlaug took the path of technology and Vogt took the path of preservation, but their paths cross in the end. 

Elias’s work can be found at nature.org/workinglands. TNC is on Twitter at @natureag and Elias is at @pipaElias.   

Continue listening to The People of Soil Health podcast on iTunes.

Photo credit: Katie Schuler