Improving Access to Soil Carbon Proxy Testing: Training Educators to Monitor Soil Health

Final report for ONE20-378

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $29,266.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2023
Grant Recipient: NOFA/Mass
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
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Project Information


The Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA/Mass) has been evaluating soil condition, and the relationship between soil health and management practices, since the mid 2010's. Through soil Carbon Proxy Testing (CPT), soil technicians have been qualitatively and quantitatively monitoring soil carbon content on farms. As a part of CPT, NOFA/Mass has been working with farmers to help them understand which management practices can have the greatest positive impact on soil carbon sequestration, and, concurrently, soil health and crop production, through a holistic discussion regarding CPT findings and discussions on management practices. As an authority on these practices within Massachusetts, this project allowed NOFA/Mass to educate staff in NOFA chapters in Connecticut and New York to further expand the reach and benefit of CPT. The goals of this project were to train NOFA staff in CT and NY on CPT, giving them the knowledge and tools to independently perform CPT in their states, to perform a longitudinal study monitoring carbon sequestration, as measured through CPT, for three farms, and to perform CPT at an additional 21 farms throughout MA. The goal of the longitudinal study was to evaluate whether, when informed of baseline soil health and ways to improve it, farmers were able to successfully change their management to improve soil carbon sequestration. After three years, NOFA/Mass found that exposure to CPT and results discussion improved farmers' awareness of soil carbon content and the relationship between management and soil health and carbon sequestration. We also found that testing and reviewing findings with farmers after one testing was as effective at improving management practices as was doing so annually. Finally, we found that trained staff need to practice performing CPT more than once per year in order to effectively maintain the knowledge and adopt the practices as a part of an organizational initiative. As a part of this project, NOFA/Mass was able to educate farmers and the public regarding soil health, soil carbon sequestration, and the findings of this project through on-farm education events, podcasts, webinars, newsletter articles, conference workshops, and a final written project summary.

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to demonstrate that farmers can better increase soil carbon once they have had their soil tested and can subsequently work with the results to improve management practices. In addition to testing, we will interpret and review results with the farmers who manage each of these three properties as they work to improve soil health.  The three farms participating in the multi-year data collection are diversified vegetable farms and collectively cultivate 329 acres. 

This project also seeks to improve access to soil carbon proxy testing by training three additional testers. Caro Roszell, the NOFA/Mass Soil Carbon Program Coordinator, will train two NOFA-NY staff members and one CT NOFA staff member to be able to conduct soil carbon proxy testing in their states.  

If the project is successful, the three farms that are partners in the study will see the most immediate benefit, but the results will serve as a model that will benefit other farmers around the country. We will disseminate the success of the three partner farms to thousands of people in NOFA/Mass digital media outlets (see below). There is the added benefit of jump starting soil carbon proxy testing programs in CT and NY. 


Current levels of atmospheric carbon are so high that we can not choose between reducing emissions and sequestering carbon. We must do both. And Farmers are significant influencers in climate change; over millennia, generations of farmers have transferred significant amounts of carbon to our atmosphere and oceans. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sandeman et al estimate that “soil carbon debt” to be approximately 133 Pg C (Sanderman, et al).

Yet that debt can be repaid. With attention to how management practices influence soil health, farmers can learn to reverse this trend and become soil carbon accumulators. Indeed, an increase of only 0.4% soil organic carbon across the world’s farmland would effectively offset 20–35% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Farms employing Healthy Soils Practices are seeing soil carbon levels increase from a baseline of 1-2% up to 5-8% over ten or more years, which adds up to 25 to 60 tons of carbon sequestered per acre. 

But soil carbon is highly labile, forming and breaking bonds with other elements constantly, entering the soil and leaving it again through respiration. As a result, soil carbon is difficult to isolate and measure with much accuracy. An alternative approach—the one we use—is to observe the soil as an ecosystem, and directly measure the aspects of soil biology that correlate with and indicate the presence of carbon. Those soil features are “proxies” for carbon. Such tests are inexpensive, immediate, directly observable, and can be done on the farm. With funding from SARE, NOFA/Mass will make this testing program available to more farmers to help them monitor the impact of management practices on their land.

Of course, while climate change mitigation is a great public benefit, many individual farmers are more immediately motivated by soil health impacts on farm viability. Carbon-degraded soils are more vulnerable to storm-related erosion and drought, and can incur costs for farm operations (ie, poor water holding capacity and poor root penetration resulting in increased irrigation needs, reduced nutrient holding capacity leading to higher input costs). In fact, a recent NRCS-funded case study by American Farmland Trust (Quantifying Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health) found an average ROI of 207% on soil health practices for participating farms.

In the nearly 10 years that NOFA/Mass has been educating about soil health and soil carbon, we have seen a dramatic rise in farmer interest in soil health. But the time-intensive nature of farming means it is challenging for farmers to take the time to evaluate their own soils in a detailed manner. Furthermore, blind spots can prevent growers from identifying problems with their soils. According to research published in the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, length of land tenure correlates with reduced accuracy in soil health assessment by farmers (Liebig, & Doran). Indeed, in our work with farmers, we have found that many experienced farmers are surprised to learn that they have certain soil health obstacles, and subsequently adjust their practices.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jeremy Barker Plotkin - Producer
  • Dina Brewster
  • Richard de Graff - Producer
  • Steve Munno - Producer
  • Bethany Wallis


Materials and methods:

Our method for increasing access to testing and training other testers involved two on-site training sessions at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, CT. The trainings were performed by Caro Roszell, NOFA/Mass Soil Health Technician. Each training including one full test collection and analysis. The third training was held at Grindstone Farm in Pulaski, NY. NOFA/Mass also conducted baseline testing in year 1 at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, MA. The 8 components evaluated as a part of our soil carbon proxy testing are: soil surface biology, subsoil observations (soil texture, topsoil depth, root behavior, biopores),  bulk density, water infiltration, slake test, earthworm count, soil hardness, and active carbon. Each test is briefly described below.  

The “Soil Surface Biology” test involved recording surface observations to track percent of soil covered / bare soil percentage, presence of soil crusting, percent living cover, plant species diversity, and non-plant life forms present. Soil coverage promotes better soil health; percentages of living cover, residue, and mulch can indicate soil management practices. Non-plant life forms like specific kinds of insects, fungi, and animal burrows were also noted as indicators of soil health. 

The “Digging a Hole” set of tests involved moving one cubic foot of soil to a tub and then recording sub-surface observations: topsoil depth, root depth, root sheathing, root behavior, presence of biopores, soil texture, and size, type and prevalence of aggregates. Stronger aggregation, deeper and more well-branched roots, well-sheathed roots, presence of soil biopores, and deeper topsoil are all indicators of soil health. 

The bulk density test measured soil particle compaction, and the relative presence of soil pores. Bulk density samples were measured at 0-4, 4-8, and 8-12 inches. Healthier soils, including those with higher carbon, support more life and tend to have lower density. Bulk density results were compared against an NRCS table of ideal bulk density levels for different soil types in order to evaluate their bulk density by their soil type. 

The water infiltration test measured the capacity of soil to absorb water and not let it puddle on the surface or run off and erode sloping ground. Better infiltration is correlated with higher levels of soil health as an indicator of greater porosity and aggregation, which mean greater carbon and soil health.

The slake test compared the growing area to a fencerow or other nearby undisturbed soil area, and recorded the percentage of the field soil sample and the fencerow sample that remains in the basket after one minute being submerged in water. 

We counted the earthworms in a cubic foot of soil (soil that was displaced during the digging a hole protocol) because soils that are higher in soil biological activity and retain moisture better without becoming waterlogged tend to contain more earthworms.

Measuring soil hardness was important because tillage and use of heavy equipment, particularly on wet soils, damages soil pores and lead to runoff, erosion, slow infiltration, and poor water storage. Most crops cannot send roots into soils requiring penetration pressure of 300 pounds/square inch (psi) or more. Similarly, mycorrhizal fungi growth and mobility of other soil organisms is restricted by compacted soil. Identifying and locating such compaction can help growers understand if remedial measures are needed such as mechanical loosening or biodrilling cover crops to break up plow pan and improve soil structure. 

In addition to testing the three partner farms each year, Jane Hammer and Rubén Parrilla, NOFA/Mass soil technicians, tested farms around Massachusetts and worked with farmers to understand their results and make improvements. A total of 21 diversified vegetable farms were tested throughout the three-year period. Seven Massachusetts vegetable farms for the first year have been identified, vegetable fields will be the focus of the testing.

Research results and discussion:

Initiated in 2020, this three-year project encountered many hurdles beyond imagination when the project was first conceived of in 2019. However, NOFA/Mass successfully trained educators with NOFA chapters in Connecticut and New York on the procedures for completing on-farm soil carbon proxy testing. Following the initial training in the fall of 2020, the NOFA/Mass lead on the project, Caro Roszell, left the organization, and replacement staff were trained in carbon proxy testing (CPT) procedures. Educators at the Connecticut and Massachusetts chapters stayed in close communication during this transition, and were able to continue to support each other throughout the 3 year project duration. This support was further enhanced by a second ongoing USDA-funded project that allowed the staff to work together on CPTs and ensure that they were proficient in the CPT procedures. However, due to proximity, NOFA-NY did not receive this level of increased interaction and educational support, and it is speculated that that reduced connectivity challenged the success of the project.

In addition to training educators and the longitudinal study, the design of this project allowed for NOFA/Mass to offer CPT to 21 farmers over the 3 year period at no cost to the farmer. This component was a fantastic opportunity to educate Massachusetts farmers about CPT and help 21 farmers understand their soils in a way that differs from the more commonly performed chemical testing. It also provided the new staff at NOFA/Mass with the repetition and experience to become proficient in the CPT procedures. In the meantime, however, the educators trained at CT-NOFA and NOFA-NY did not have the ongoing practice reinforcement, and it has become apparent that they lost their proficiency in CPT in the 12 month span between annual longitudinal tests. New York particularly suffered from this: after the baseline test in fall 2020, Grindstone Farm was sampled in fall 2021, yet the data and report were reportedly lost during NOFA-NY staff transitions, including the retirement of the educator who had been trained in CPT. Due to further staff transitions at NOFA-NY, Grindstone Farm was not sampled in 2022 or 2023, and there was also an indication that Dick was retiring from farming in 2022. The staff person that was originally trained in CPT left the organization in 2020, and it is speculated that the other educators who had received training from the first staff person were less proficient and comfortable in performing CPT, which is part of the reason it was not performed in 2022.

By contrast, the additional connections between NOFA/Mass and CT-NOFA made it possible to obtain three years of testing at Massaro Farm. This was supported through ongoing discussions between staff at the two chapters, and Rubén Parrilla, the staff who took over for Caro Roszell following her departure, assisted CT-NOFA staff with the CPT at Massaro in both 2021 and 2022. It became apparent in 2022 that performing one CPT per year was insufficient for the other staff to be confident in performing the testing independently, and CT-NOFA staff did not have the confidence to expand the work independently outside of the scope of this project.

Thus, while not the original intent of this project, the findings from the execution of CPT by the CT and NY NOFA chapters demonstrate the true efficacy of the trainings and the ability for the CPT to expand to farmers across their regions. While this project did teach staff how to perform CPT, it did not account for external factors such as turnover and organizational support of CPT. In order to effectively train educators on CPT to the extent that they can perform the tests regularly and proficiently, they need to have the opportunity to perform regular field testing to reinforce their knowledge. Based upon these observations, a better approach would have been for the 21 non-longitudinal CPT to have been split between CT-NOFA and NOFA-NY, or evenly divided between the three organizations.

The 21 non-longitudinal CPT effectively supported and built NOFA/Mass’ soil testing program by exposing farmers to the value of physical soil testing. Furthermore, the frequency of the tests allowed at least two new employees, following Caro’s departure, to reinforce their training and become proficient at performing the tests independently. This provides a significant benefit to farmers in Massachusetts and will allow NOFA/Mass staff to support their learning and efforts to progress in their regenerative farming practices.

Findings from the longitudinal study indicate that farmers directly benefitted from CPT and knowing more about the physical properties and changes occurring within their soils. Regular CPT provides a great service to farmers by helping them understand the effects of their management practices and production on their soil’s physical characteristics. While chemical testing is commonly done by farmers to help them understand the amount of nutrients they should apply to their fields, physical analysis is done far less frequently yet is of equal importance. A soil’s physical composition plays an essential role in either facilitating or inhibiting plant and root growth, productivity, and capacity to withstand extreme weather events, such as drought or heavy rainfall. As extreme weather is occurring with increased frequency due to climate change, shifting management practices in support of soil health will benefit farmers over time.

Massaro and Simple Gifts Farms, which participated in the longitudinal study, both had been performing soil-building and regenerative farming practices prior to their participation in the study. Utilizing this information and the metrics evaluated as a part of the CPT, farmers can identify areas that can be potentially improved upon and approaches for doing so. For instance, issues of compaction could be addressed through changes in tillage, adoption of cover crops or use of alternative cover crop termination strategies, or use of cover crops specially designed to address compaction issues, such as tillage radish. These findings can support soil carbon-building practices to benefit the environment, production, and sustainability of production systems.

Grindstone Farm, which was sampled by NOFA-NY in 2020, stood to greatly benefit from the longitudinal study if the project has been carried out in the approach originally intended at project commencement. As commented upon by the farmer, there was a considerable difference in the measurements between his untilled asparagus bed and other field that received regular tillage. The measured soil hardness (as measured by penetrometer) in 2020 was close to 300 PSI at a depth of 3 inches, and had reached 300 PSI at 6 inch depth. Likely a direct result of regular tillage, ongoing communications with the farmer could lead to new management practices that could lead to soil health improvements.

Building upon the lessons learned during the completion of this project, future projects should better accommodate the iterative learning essential during the training process. Doing so will ensure that educators are independently proficient at the skills they are being trained on in order to do them independently and over time. This could be accommodated by incorporating more testing opportunities for the trained educators, providing more review sessions, and maintaining open lines of communication between the trainer and those learning. The closer (geographic and social) connections between staff at the Connecticut and Massachusetts chapters was integral to completing the longitudinal study at Massaro Farm; maintaining this same level of connection with New York staff would also, presumably, assist in the completion of their longitudinal study as well. Furthermore, for a soil CPT program to be successfully replicated across the region, each organization needs the organizational capacity to support it as an ongoing program. In Massachusetts, this is reflected through fee-for-service soil health offerings, which is a program that was built upon CPT, allowing staff performing CPT to have the sustained employment that can provide them with a year-round position that will allow them to perform CPT during the growing season. However, the CT and NY NOFA chapters do not have this same capacity, so staff who were trained in CPT as a part of this project then had to do other activities in fulfillment of their position, rather than expand their delivery of CPT to farmers in their areas.

In conclusion, this project provided a great opportunity to expand CPT throughout the region by training staff at other NOFA chapters and building the soil health technical services program with NOFA/Mass. To sustain these efforts, future activities will need to emphasize additional organizational support the CT and NY chapters so they can effectively incorporate CPT as a part of their year-round programming. Based upon the longitudinal study and feedback from farmers, access to CPT and their associated management recommendations would be well-received by farmers, adding another tool for them to use in establishing regenerative farming practices.

Research conclusions:

The objectives of this project were to demonstrate that farmers who have had their soil tested can better can better increase soil carbon through carbon-building management practices. This project also aimed to improve access to soil carbon proxy testing by training three additional testers, jump starting the soil carbon proxy testing programs in CT and NY.

This project successfully performed longitudinal studies at two farms, performed CPT at 21 farms throughout MA, supporting the soil technical services program at NOFA/Mass and expanding CPT across the region. The educational activities performed as a part of this project, including on-farm education events, podcasts, webinars, newsletter articles, and conference workshops, have created an online educational network supporting the role of CPT in regenerative farming. Additionally, NOFA/Mass successfully trained three staff at NOFA chapters in CT and NY on CPT procedures, setting them up with the capacity to complete the longitudinal study and establish CPT programs in their regions.

This project effectively helped farmers better understand what is occurring in their soil to inform their management and encourage soil carbon-building management practices. The longitudinal study allowed farmers to have repeated interactions with the soil testers in CT and MA, helping them understand their CPT results and the relationship between management practices and soil carbon sequestration. As a result, farmers were able to identify management practices that could better benefit their production and their soils. While NY was unsuccessful in completing the longitudinal study, the baseline CPT performed in 2020, and the ensuing discussion with the farmer, helped the farmer observe some of the existing soil health differences between his fields. Seeing these differences between fields that were managed differently (beds of asparagus versus tilled vegetables) was a dramatic way of observing the impacts of different management on soil health. As this farm had the poorest initial soil health, it would have been valuable to have continued with the longitudinal study over the duration of the project, yet we are hopeful that the early discussions were sufficient in helping to induce even a small change in the farmer’s management practices.

The effects of the CPT training and program expansion in CT and NY had greater success in CT than in NY, partially due to the additional support that was provided to staff in CT than in NY.

However, this project revealed that both chapters will need greater organizational support and capacity building before CPTs can be a part of their standard offerings to farmers in their regions. Thus, project objectives were mostly achieved, and the instances in which they were not met have revealed valuable opportunities for future growth and learning.

Participation Summary
24 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

5 Consultations
6 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days
6 Other educational activities: Podcasts

Participation Summary:

17 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:


2020 Outreach activity:
NOFA/Mass wrote one article in this grant period, published in our newsletter. NOFA_Mass, CT NOFA and NOFA-NY to Expand Soil Carbon Proxy Testing with SARE and Farmer Support – NOFA_Mass

2021 Outreach Activities:
In 2021, NOFA/Mass completed two podcasts, one webinar, two NOFA Summer Conference workshops, two on-farm soil health events, and two newsletter articles as a  part of this project, reaching over 3300 individuals. We have also been expanding our Spanish-language event offerings, and offered one workshop in Spanish, which is still available streaming. The following education-related activities were performed in 2021 as a part of this project:


  • Closing Nutrient Cycles with Noah Kellerman (Season 4 Episode 5, August 2021) 448 downloads
  • Compaction Mitigation Strategies with Julie Rawson (Season 4 Episode 8, December 2021) 532 downloads

Webinars: Compaction Mitigation with No-Till Practices – 12/14/21

Workshops: 2021 Summer Conference:

  • Soil Biodiversity and Characteristics of a Healthy Soil – Ruben Parrilla – Monday, August 2, 2021. In respect to productive soils in agriculture, biology is perhaps the most important factor to consider and understand. In this presentation we will briefly cover the different soil trophic levels, their importance, and how to identify some features that are indicative of healthy soils. (presented in Spanish with English translation). 22 participants, 35 streaming views (English translation), 6 streaming views (Spanish translation)
  • NOFA/MA Soil Tech Team – Laura Davis, Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Ruben Parrilla, and Jane Hammer – Wednesday, August 4, 2021. Over the last 5 years, NOFA/Mass has developed a comprehensive soil technical assistance program to assist growers of all sizes to enhance soil fertility and grow nutritious organic food. The team presented the programs and services that address the physical, biological, and chemical pillars of soil health. 19 participants, 7 streaming views

On-Farm Events:

Newsletter Articles:

In addition to the education and outreach activities undertaken by NOFA/Mass, CT NOFA also developed the following workshops and education events relating to soil health and soil carbon:

  • Best conservation Management Practices in Agriculture – Cynthia Rabinowitz – March 6, 2021
  • Building Soil Carbon for Gardens, Farms, Health, and World – Julie Rawson & Jack Kittredge – March 6, 2021
  • Soil Health Series - Wednesdays April 7, 14, 21
  • Microscopy Lunchtime Series - first Wednesday of the Month - May, June, July, August, and September 2021
  • A Closeup Look at Composting - September 2021. Video link:
  • Compost and Compost Tea for Improved Crop Production - September 2021


2022 Outreach Activities
In 2022, NOFA/Mass and NOFA-NY completed 2 podcasts, 1 on-farm soil health event, and 2 newsletter articles as a  part of this project, reaching over 1200 individuals. The following education-related activities were performed in 2022 as a part of this project:


  • Assessing Soil Health at Assawaga Farm (Season 5 Episode 6, May 2022), 734 downloads (1/12/23)
  • Clover As Living Mulch (Season 5 Episode 11, December 2022), 101 downloads (1/12/23)

On-Farm Events:

  • SOS For Your Soil Soil Health Event at Jamesport Farmstead -- Jamesport Farmstead, 11/13/22. Led by NOFA-NY. 41 participants.

Newsletter Articles:


2023 Outreach Activities
In 2023, NOFA/Mass completed 1 podcast as a part of this project, reaching over 300 individuals.

Grass-Fed Cattle are Solving Problems (Season 6 Episode 1, July 2023), 342 downloads (9/21/23)

Learning Outcomes

15 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

For the first quarter of this grant, the goal was primarily to begin training NOFA-NY and CT NOFA staff. We did begin that process and were able to accomplish one in-field training test in each state (ahead of schedule) on behalf of Steve Munno of Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge CT,  Dick DeGraff of Grindstone Farm in Pulaski, NY, and Gaining Ground Farm in Concord, MA.  Steve, Doug and Dick received information about soil testing through our work on their farms. Jane Hammer, our Soil Technician, completed one test on one farm in the fall but due to an ongoing family health emergency had to postpone the other scheduled tests until the springtime.

Dick DeGraff specifically reported being very surprised at the difference between his soil health indicators on his tilled annual vegetable fields and his 10-year asparagus beds. The infiltration test in particular helped to increase his awareness of soil health indicators, as his tilled, non-cover cropped annual vegetable field took 3 minutes and 24 seconds for 1 inch of water to infiltrate, compared to 27.43 seconds in his asparagus beds in the same field (about 10 yards between testing sites).

Most of the change in knowledge and awareness, however, occurred at the staff level as the technical staff build knowledge of testing protocols and how to interpret results for farmers.

In 2021, Jane Hammer and Soil Tech Coordinator Ruben Parrilla performed carbon proxy tests at 6 Massachusetts farms in addition to Simple Gifts Farm. Jane and Ruben discussed the tests and procedures with the farmers while on-site, and provided them with a report of findings. The test reports provide a detailed assessment of the findings, the importance of each metric, and a brief summary of different management changes farmers can make to improve their soils and carbon sequestration. While we did not receive any direct feedback from the farmers in response to this, we assume that the farmers directly benefited from having Jane and Ruben discuss the tests they were performing and the relationship between each farmer's management practices and soil health.

In 2022, Ruben Parrilla and Jane Hammer performed carbon proxy tests at 5 Massachusetts farms in addition to Simple Gifts Farm. Ruben is skilled in soil microbiological assessments; one farm, Sawyer Farm in Worthington, had recently had a CPT performed as a part of a SARE project by Caroline Roszell and American Farmland Trust (AFT). Ruben performed a soil microbiological assessment there to supplement the CPT that was performed by AFT and provide an even more holistic view of the health of Sawyer Farm's soil. This approach was taken as NOFA/Mass had committed to doing a CPT at Sawyer Farm prior to learning that AFT was also doing a CPT there and in an effort to minimize redundancy and gain even more information about the relationship between soil carbon sequestration and soil microbiology. A CPT was also performed by CT-NOFA at Massaro Farm.

Results from Massaro and the farms tested in Massachusetts were discussed with the farmers to help them understand the relationship between management practices and soil carbon sequestration. Steve Munno of Massaro Farm commented that while he had looked at numerous soil chemical tests, he had never had his soil evaluated with metrics such as water infiltration, bulk density, and penetrometer readings. He found that looking at the physical quality of the soil was very meaningful and helped reinforce his confidence in their low-till methods and regenerative practices. Massaro Farm has been reduced till with regenerative practices since 2010, and has been cover cropping for over 10 years; however, a bit of compaction was identified during testing, leading Steve to speculate that tractor use during bed reshaping following a season of potatoes may have caused a bit of compaction.

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Discussions with Steve Munno, the farmer at Massaro Farm, expanded his understanding of soil health and the relationship between management practices and soil carbon sequestration. In conversation with Steve it was clear that the longitudinal carbon proxy testing informed his decision making and management. Massaro Farm generally uses minimal tillage and regenerative farming practices, including an intermixed 2-4 species cover crop, which is flail mowed and allowed to regrow 2-3 times, depending upon the planting schedule and crop. They terminate their cover crops with tarping, which can also help warm the soil in the spring.

Despite having other types of soil tests performed (namely, chemical test), Steve had never looked at soil carbon proxy-type tests prior to participating in the longitudinal study. He found it interesting to learn more about their soil through physical tests such as water infiltration, bulk density, and penetrometer readings. Looking at the physical quality of the soil was very meaningful to him, and gave him confidence that their low-till methods and regenerative practices were paying off.

Massaro Farm has been reduced-till with regenerative practices since 2010, and have been cover cropping for more than a decade. A challenge with reduced tillage is trying to maintain raised beds without reforming them every year; they also try to maintain the same walking paths to avoid compaction. In spring 2020 they needed to reshape some beds that had gotten messy from growing potatoes, and wondered whether that impacted their overall compaction readings. When asked if they would change any management practices in response to the CPT results, Steve indicated that they hadn’t made any management changes, but that the results also support what they’ve been doing for the past 13 years. Finally, Steve emphasized he found the CPT valuable, and appreciated having other people look at and test his fields. He feels as though more information is better to help with their management practices, and appreciated that participating in the CPT did not require a large amount of his time.

While Grindstone Farm didn’t have a full three years of data for longitudinal comparisons, early discussions with the farmer, Dick DeGraff, indicated his surprise at the differences in the measurements between his untilled asparagus bed and other field that received regular tillage. The initial conversations suggested that ongoing communications with the farmer could lead to new management practices that could lead to soil health improvements.


Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

This project successfully completed a longitudinal study of the soil carbon content of two northeastern farms, providing the farmers with the observations, analysis, and interpretation essential to informing their management and regenerative production practices. The project also successfully educated over 21 Massachusetts farmers about CPT through having them performed on their farm and providing guidance and feedback. Finally, the project showed moderate success in training staff at two other NOFA chapters on CPT practices and protocols. With additional training and support, these chapters have the potential to adopt CPT as a part of the toolkit they offer to farmers, expanding farmers’ understanding of the physical component of the soil they manage. The widespread benefit of reaching farmers by performing CPT over the project duration, in combination with farmer education efforts, rendered the greatest value to the project as a whole. Through these educational efforts, this project successfully addressed the goals and questions in the original project, and identified pathways for the project to grow and expand moving forward.

NOFA/Mass will build upon this project by continuing to offer CPT to farmers throughout Massachusetts, helping farmers holistically understand their soil as a living, malleable entity, rather than an inert medium in which their crops are grown. Of the three NOFA chapters participating in this project, NOFA/Mass has the greatest capacity to continue offering these services throughout its region. However, this project also lay the foundation to establish CPT programs in both CT and NY. While staff in neither chapter became as proficient in CPT as the proposal originally anticipated, the chapters now have the CPT supplies and knowledge foundation that can be used to build a program moving forward. NOFA/Mass will continue to work with and support the CT and NY chapters in an effort to further establish the CPT programs in the regions served by these chapters. To do so, NOFA/Mass will encourage the other chapters to perform CPT more frequently than once per year, as the knowledge gaps identified by this project made it clear that staff need to perform CPT more frequently to become confident and proficient in their protocols and the associated recommendations. It is highly recommended that work on this topic continue in the future, and that organizations interested in adopting CPT services receive both the staff training and organizational support that is needed to effectively serve farmers in their region.

Based upon our findings, organizations looking to learn and adopt CPT as a part of the services they offer to farmers should look to maximize the number of farms they test over the course of each season, rather than taking a longitudinal approach and testing only a few farms over a period of a few years. It seemed as though the farmers in the longitudinal study had an equal benefit to farmers whose farms were only tested once, and performing CPT at a larger number of farms will provide a greater benefit to more farmers. Furthermore, due to the nature of the tests performed in CPT and the amount of time it takes for the soil to change as a result of management practices, it would be more effective to serially test farms once every several years, rather than annually, to better capture changes over time.

Findings from this project can most directly benefit technical assistance organizations working with farmers, and farmers themselves. Technical assistance organizations can benefit from the knowledge that farmers valued having a test performed on their soil that could help them connect their management practices with soil health and carbon sequestration, particularly with little time investment on the part of the farmer. This project’s benefit to farmers comes through the resources made available that can help reinforce the knowledge and connections regarding soil health and management, and the regenerative farming practices that can truly benefit both their production and the environment.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.