- Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Problem and Justification: In Massachusetts and beyond, healthy soil is now generally considered to confer important societal and on-farm benefits, including the potential to sequester carbon, improve water quality, increase resilience to climate change, and improve crop health and productivity. While Soil Health principles, practices and benefits are well known, the relationship between specific practices on each farm and the specific benefits to that farmer and to society are complex. The science regarding the many dimensions of Soil Health continues to evolve, and there are many voices speaking to farmers about this topic, sometimes with different messages. This leads to confusion about which practices are appropriate on which farms and which decisions are supported by scientific evidence. Even for practices with clear benefits, adoption barriers are known to include knowledge gaps, management complexity, financial hurdles, and potential loss of productivity or profitability during transition to new practices. Farmers understand that there are good reasons to adopt Soil Health practices but look to Extension and other service providers to help them assess their options. Although the University of Massachusetts Amherst is developing a strong program in Soil Health and related disciplines and boasts seasoned and new faculty in this field, UMass Extension has lacked the capacity to deliver this expertise to a wider audience.
The opportunity exists for Extension to integrate the Soil Health expertise of UMass faculty, the capabilities of our public and research labs, and the ability of our Extension staff to bring practical and proven solutions to service providers and farmers.
Solution and Approach: Extension and faculty will collaborate to develop a UMass clearinghouse of science-based information and resources, and we will offer education and training opportunities for agricultural service providers.
We will establish a UMass Soil Health Working Group comprised of Extension professionals and faculty in several UMass academic departments. This group will support knowledge exchange on fundamentals of soil science and cutting-edge research in Soil Health. A key goal will be to increase the level of expertise in Soil Health among Extension personnel serving agricultural audiences. Another goal will be to integrate the UMass Soil Testing Lab into the larger Soil Health effort and provide guidance on practice recommendations and the selection of new analyses as lab capacity allows.
In the winter of 2021 (project year 2) and 2022 (project year 3), Extension will hold a winter Soil Health School training event for up to 50 Extension agents and other agricultural service providers. We will also offer 10 in-person and/or virtual workshops over three years. We will support development of educational resources by Extension professionals in multiple programs, including factsheets, newsletter articles, video presentations, and conference presentations.
Performance targets from proposal:
5 UMass Extension professionals who participate in the Soil Health Working Group and/or Soil Health training opportunities integrate knowledge gained into advice and services provided to 100 farmers, collectively responsible for managing a minimum of 2000 acres of land.
40 non-Extension Agricultural Service Providers (ASPs) who participate in Soil Health training opportunities report increased Soil Health knowledge and confidence and intention to incorporate knowledge into advice and services provided to 200 farmers.