Expanding Regional Economic and Livestock Integration Soil Health Information and Resources

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $119,911.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University Extension
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Christina Curell
Michigan State University Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: nutrient management
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: risk management
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The Soil Health Nexus, a university-led team dedicated to increasing access to research-based soil health knowledge, extension educational programming and resources, will enhance the existing Soil Health Digital Toolbox to provide robust resources on soil health economics and livestock integration. As a part of this process, the Nexus will develop a Soil Health Decision-Making Framework that maps key soil health indicator information against known economic data to equip agricultural educators with the most detailed information possible when discussing soil health practice suggestions and their economic implications with farmers and ranchers. We will also adapt the Interactive Nutrient Management Decision-Making Exercise to focus on soil health principles and practices that make the most sense based on goals, context, and farm management. These resources, as well as popular, science-based, resources currently being utilized across the region will be incorporated into the Soil Health Digital Toolbox. Additionally, this proposal will allow the Soil Health Nexus to expand two popular outreach and training events – Regional Soil Health In-Service events and the Soil Health Digital Café Series. 

    Each of these activities will increase soil health knowledge and awareness among the Nexus community of over 2,000 agricultural educators across the North Central Region. In addition, our regional in-services will use the train-the-trainer model and result in increased confidence in teaching soil health, and ultimately changes in the way agricultural educators teach soil health to the farmers and ranchers in their professional networks.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Nexus members will develop a Soil Health Decision-Making Framework. This resource will fill a key resource gap – combining soil health indicator data and economic data in one central tool. This educational resource will allow agricultural educators to determine what soil health practices will work best on a producer's operation based on particular situations a producer faces (i.e. soil type, crop management, climate, etc.) and the producer's soil health goals. Recommendations will be correlated to known economic impacts of practice and management decisions to provide a more holistic view of impacts soil health practice decisions have on operations. This tool will allow agricultural educators of varied backgrounds the ability to advise producers and answer questions regarding soil indicators and the economic impacts of potential adoptions decisions. 
    • Nexus members will adapt the Interactive Nutrient Management Decision-Making Exercise to focus on soil health principles. The current curriculum is a popular educational resource used as an interactive activity for agricultural educators to teach about the real-time tradeoffs and risk balancing that takes place when making manure land application decisions on a field-by-field basis. The activity can also be used by a group of producers to allow for a discussion on management decisions based on hypothetical situations, thus eliminating any blame or judgment. We will adapt this curriculum to focus on soil health and challenge participants to make soil health practice decisions on a field-by-field basis that make the most sense based on hypothetical goals, context, and farm management. We will also build out the relevant instructions for the activity, including instructions for individuals in other states who wish to use this curriculum and adapt it to fit their local context.
    • We will host three regional in-person in-services for agricultural educators. We aim to train roughly 50-75 agricultural educators through each of these events. These events will take place in-person and bring a regional training to extension educators, state and federal partners, and ag consultants. One in-service will focus on soil health economics and feature the forthcoming conservation finance curriculum currently being developed through the Closing the Financial Information Gap project. Another in-service will focus on livestock integration and feature the Interactive Nutrient Management Decision-Making Exercise as well as the resources featured in the livestock integration section of the Soil Health Digital Toolbox. The third in-service will feature a train-the-trainer activity where agricultural educators can learn about and participate in the newly created Interactive Soil Health Decision-Making Exercise. 
    • We will host roughly 36 monthly Soil Health Digital Cafés. Cafes include a 20-minute presentation, 10-minutes of audience Q&A, and a 30-minute break-out conversation where attendees are grouped according to their affiliation and discuss the topic presented. The webinars are shared monthly with our mailing list of over 2,000 agricultural educators across the region, and on average over 230 educators register for these events on a monthly basis. Topics vary based on Nexus member and audience suggestions, however we will ensure we feature digital cafes on the resources created through this project.
    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.