PASA awarded $200,000 grant to help farmers improve soil health

PHOTO PROVIDED Bob Shindelbeck from the Cornell Soil Health Lab demonstrates how to take effective soil samples at a PASA workshop.

MILLHEIM — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) a highly competitive Conservation Innovation Grant totalling $200,300 over three years. This grant will support PASA’s Soil Health Benchmark Study, which provides farmers with tools and strategies for improving soil health.

PASA’s Soil Health Benchmark Study is a citizen-science project that began in 2016. The study helps farmers comprehensively test the health of their soils using physical, biological, and chemical soil health indicators. PASA compiles these data from individual farms to establish soil health benchmarks, which can help farmers everywhere more effectively assess whether their soil management techniques are achieving desired results.

“We are thrilled to have received this support for our soil health research, which currently involves 28 farms and now can continue to grow to include 150 farms,” said PASA Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker. “This sort of collaboration adds to the strength of the sustainable agriculture network within the region, better positioning farmers to weather environmental variables impacting them.”

Each farm participating in the study also serves as a case-study site for soil sampling and on-farm data collection. Participants share their management records with other farmers to build a deeper understanding of how an individual farm’s approach to soil health compares to other farms in the region.

PASA also organizes forums for farmers to collaboratively develop innovative yet practical solutions to common soil health challenges revealed through its research. This case study PASA recently published illustrates how one farm participating in the project identified a significant soil health constraint-excessive phosphorus-and worked with peer farmers to find strategies for addressing the issue.

“This project is bringing together organic vegetable farmers, no-till row crop farmers, and grazing dairy farmers to share data and ideas,” said PASA Director of Education Dr. Franklin Egan. “One of the exciting things we are learning so far is that soil health isn’t limited to a set of prescriptive practices-different farms can develop different pathways to grow soil health.”

PASA is a Pennsylvania-based sustainable agriculture association working to build a more economically-just, environmentally-regenerative, and community-focused food system through education and research that directly supports farmers.

This group coordinates year-round workshops and events, administers formal farming apprenticeships, and facilitates research that empowers farmers with data they value. They also work to foster productive connections between farmers, community members, local businesses, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

PASA’s annual sustainable agriculture conference draws thousands of people from all sectors of the food system for four days of intensive learning on a wide range of food and farming topics.

Learn more at pasafarming.org.