Digging In

Podcast: Taking a comprehensive approach to soil health

By SHP Staff on Tuesday, 05 May, 2020

John Mesko, host of The People of Soil Health Podcast and Senior Director of SHP, spoke with Dr. LaKisha Odom who is the Scientific Program Director for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, known as FFAR, in this week’s podcast.

Odom worked at the USDA and Tuskegee University before she found what she describes as the perfect job for her at FFAR: to chase complex problems but do it in an innovative way that involves partnerships. 

“It’s finding like-minded folks that want to run with you. A huge part of what I do as the scientific program director at FFAR is to identify research gaps and white spaces and identify areas of alignment,” Odom said. “For me, part of that chasing is thinking about those areas that are complementary to the work that our federal partners, such as USDA are doing, but also those spaces where no one is really funding a lot in that area. Or, what are those research needs from our industry partners and other stakeholders, like farmers and ranchers, that say they need this research, and no one is really funding it? Then, the chase begins.”

FFAR was created in 2014 through the Farm Bill to be complementary to USDA. For every dollar FFAR spends, they have to find a non-federal matching partner. They operate in six strategic research spaces: soil health, sustainable water management, next-generation crops, advanced animal systems, urban food systems and health ag nexus.

With partnerships at the core of her work, Dr. Odom shared the Soil Health Initiatives as an example of how the organizations she works with leverage their expertise and learning to accelerate the adoption of soil health practices.  

The Soil Health Initiative is a partnership between the Soil Health Institute (SHP) and The Nature Conservancy. She shared that the Soil Health Institute develops and tests soil health measurements; Soil Health Partnerships comes in to implement and evaluate those soil health practices on working farms. Then, the Nature Conservancy works with the non-operator landowners to try to encourage the use of science-based soil health practices. 

Dr. Odom told Mesko about a couple of her current projects. Open Team looks at decision support tools to improve soil health. A new project that is getting underway involves thinking about ways in which  we can impact the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. 

FARR is online at https://foundationfar.org/. You can follow them on Twitter at @FoundationFAR and Facebook at @FoundationFAR.