The two organizations last week announced a joint program, dubbed the Minnesota Office for Soil Health. The program will help teach farmers, conservationists and others how to best manage soil health.
The program will be run by University of Minnesota and state staff, and stakeholders from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Post Bulletin spoke with University of Minnesota Water Resources Center Director Jeff Peterson about the new partnership.
How did the idea for a Minnesota Office of Soil Health come about?
It's certainly been a topic that's of interest to a growing number of people. Our interest in it from our center stems from a lot of it being things that are beneficial, just like a win-win, because things that are beneficial for soil health also are beneficial for water resources. It's a win-win from the perspective of, at least in the long term, there's growing evidence … that it's helpful for farmers and their production. It builds conditions for them to be more resilient to drought, for example.
Can you tell me a little bit about what the mission of this office is going to be?
We're bringing the university's resources to … be able to bring science-based information, or new evolving understanding of soil health, out to state … and federal agencies and the local units of government, the community of conservation professionals that work with farmers and ultimately producers themselves so that people can enhance their understanding from a solid research base of how to build soil health.
So a lot of outreach then?
It's mostly education and outreach, but also a research component that will be helping to largely coordinate a lot of the research that's already been going on and connect it. I should mention that economic analysis is part of the research and outreach piece too, in addition to soil science.
Could you go a little more in-depth on the research analysis? What type of research will the office be doing, or cultivating?
The main thing is that we're in the process of hiring a new position; someone who will have a Ph.D. who will be a state soil health specialist. About 70 percent of their role will be education and outreach.
But the research piece we'll be doing … applied research to understand more about how different farming practices build soil health under different conditions and the timescale on which that occurs. And then, over time, what the impacts of that are. What does improved soil health do to production, the crop yield, the water quality, water holding capacity of the soil?
What do you see this collaboration doing in the very long-term?
In the very long-term, I think the vision is that soil health will become a broadly understood and broadly practiced goal on farms. The research that we'll be doing will be to contribute to that understanding, and the education and outreach will be delivering the research to the people who can use it.