Looking beyond yield: Tools for producers to capture and communicate the results of their soil health experiments in the semi-arid High Plains

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $349,687.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G101-24-W9981
Grant Recipients: FARMS; Kansas Black Farmers Association
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Meagan Schipanski
Colorado State University
JohnElla Holmes
Nicodemus Educational Camps
Ron Meyer
Colorado State University Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Regenerative Agriculture (RA) producers advocate for their systems-based approach to improving soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem functions from coffee shop conversations to conference panels. Yet there are important challenges to RA implementation in semi-arid environments often missing from these stories. In this project we will integrate producer-led on-farm research and outreach to develop a comprehensive understanding of the linkages between soil health practices and indicators, net profitability, and barriers to adoption for Historically Underserved (HU) producers. Importantly, we will build tools and capacity for producers to document and analyze the outcomes of their RA experiments. 

    We will accomplish these goals through biophysical and sociological research. Using data from an existing network of 30 farms across the Central High Plains coupled with participatory research on 8 farms, we will identify soil health indicators most relevant to informing the outcomes of on-farm RA experiments in semi-arid environments (Objective 1). We will engage a broader group of producers that represent diverse scales, backgrounds, and production systems through qualitative research and outreach. HU producers have important RA success stories to share, however they face systemic barriers to accessing resources and support. We will define key barriers, best practices and effective strategies to support HU producers in adopting or scaling up soil health practices (Objective 2). 

    Previous research and partnerships with producers across this multi-state region informed our education and outreach objectives. Producers are experimentalists, constantly testing new approaches and sharing the outcomes of these tests via producer-to-producer networks. Through our participatory research approach we will co-design and quantify the outcomes of RA experiments (Objective 1) while using iterative feedback to create a tool for producers to document, analyze, and communicate the outcomes of their RA experimentation (Objective 3). RA producers report feeling isolated and “groping in the dark'' because they have limited regional data on the agronomic or economic viability of RA practices. We will address this need by facilitating in-person educational events and producer-to-producer learning networks. This will include creating individual connections, enrollment in innovative online networking tools, and field days at diverse farming operations across three states (Objective 4). These networks will ensure that these impacts persist beyond the project funding timeline.

    One key challenge to increasing adoption of RA systems is the need to adapt to the local context, including the social, environmental and economic context of the producer. This project addresses this challenge by empowering producers to design, conduct, document, and share their on-farm experiments. The resulting data and case studies will bolster their discussions with stakeholders including landlords, bankers, family members, and build a local, field-scale body of evidence for RA practices. 

    In addition, we will identify and communicate programmatic, policy, soil health testing, and educational barriers to the adoption of RA practices. These efforts will enhance the adoption of RA practices across diverse farm types, with an emphasis on HU producers, build stronger farmer-to-farmer learning networks, and create new approaches and policies to support all producers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1:  Identify soil health indicators that are most relevant for informing and quantifying outcomes of on-farm soil health experiments in semi-arid cropping systems.

    Objective 2: Identify systemic barriers, best practices, and effective support strategies for historically underserved producers to adopt or scale up soil health practices.

    Objective 3: Create a mechanism for producers to easily quantify and communicate the results of their soil health experimentation.

    Objective 4: Facilitate producer-to-producer learning networks and knowledge sharing using innovative online and in-person educational tools and programs.

    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.