Healthy Soils Hawaiʻi: Building Better Soil on Agricultural Lands through Soil Health Planning

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,557.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G117-21-W7901
Grant Recipient: Oahu RC&D
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Dave Elliott
Oahu RC&D

Information Products


  • Nuts: macadamia
  • Additional Plants: coffee
  • Animals: bovine


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Building soil health is paramount to maintain farm productivity in the face of global challenges such as drought, intense storms, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and limited resources such as water and nutrients. Hawai‘i's unique island landscapes and history of soil degradation through intensive crop production heighten the importance of rebuilding soil health. As organic matter and soil nutrients are depleted, farm operations require greater quantities of fertilizers and water to sustain production and experience increased risk of crop failure due to less climate-resilient soils. Though conservation planning and federal farm bill programs provide a framework to identify and address natural resource concerns on agricultural lands, the pressing concern of how to build and maintain healthy, productive soil on agricultural lands is lost in a morass of competing concerns. In contrast, farmers are prioritizing soil health and seeking tools to address the need.

    Our project team will evaluate Soil Health Plans (SHP) as a focused planning methodology that identifies spatially-referenced practices to benefit soil health on the farm-scale. Participating producers will guide decisions to identify new and underutilized soil health opportunities for their operations' crops and natural resources and any bottlenecks to their implementation. The project will utilize soil health testing to inform producers of the impact of practices already in use by their operations and provide support for implementation of soil health practices. The developed plans and refined planning methodology will educate producers and generate momentum for more farmers and ranchers to build resiliency through increased soil health.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Develop Soil Health Plans (SHP) 
      1. Purpose: Evaluate the use of SHPs to provide producers with a tool that identifies  opportunities to build soil health through the implementation of practices such as cover crops, tree establishment, or mulch application
        1. Action: Work with five (5) producers to organize site visits and discussions with the project team to understand producer goals for the landscape
        2. Action: Work with each producer to develop a farm-specific SHP that includes existing and proposed conservation practices supporting soil health
    • Evaluate impacts of soil health practices 
      1. Purpose: Encourage further adoption of practices by measuring the potential impacts of soil health practices at each unique site and to establish baseline soil health data for each producer
        1. Action: Conduct soil testing at paired locations with and without conservation practices 
        2. Action: Determine baseline soil health differences by soil data analysis
        3. Action: Producers provide feedback on the effects of soil health practices  
    • Technical assistance in SHP implementation
      1. Purpose: Support on-the-ground learning for producers to install soil health practices 
        1. Action: Provide technical recommendations/assistance on at least one practice for installation to addressing soil health concerns on the land 
    • Identify challenges to the adoption of soil health practices
      1. Purpose: Survey producers to determine the non-environmental impacts of implementing soil health practices and identify challenges to the adoption of SHP practices 
        1. Action: Conduct a post-collaboration survey with producers geared towards evaluating perspectives of the economic and agronomic costs and benefits of soil health practices 
        2. Action: Identify opportunities and challenges for future development of plans based on feedback provided 
    • Share project findings with the agricultural stakeholders
      1. Purpose: Educate a larger audience on strategies to restore depleted soils. Demonstrating the successes and lessons learned in this project will support others’ work on restoring soil health throughout Hawai‘i
        1. Action: Host outreach activities and report project findings on a variety of platforms (one-on-one and stakeholder meetings, on-farm workshops, webinar, factsheet, newsletters, social media, and at a conference).
    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.