reThink Soil

A Roadmap to U.S. Soil Health

Healthy soils can deliver tangible economic and environmental benefits for U.S. farmers, businesses and communities for generations to come.

We need healthy soil. It’s a modern imperative for long-term agricultural production, which is growing as our global population continues to increase. In fact, global agricultural production must increase by 60 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

Soil health extends well beyond farmland, though. Not only does soil provide an estimated 95 percent of food, but it’s crucial for clean water and can help reduce the impact of climate change.

A roadmap, prepared by an interdisciplinary team of Nature Conservancy scientists, environmental economists and agriculture experts, outlines how adopting soil health practices on all U.S. corn, soy and wheat croplands could deliver nearly $50 billion in social and environmental impacts annually.

Download the Soil Health Roadmap Executive Summary

Benefits from achieving widespread soil health adoption, as outlined in the Roadmap, include:

  • Mitigating 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The equivalent to taking 5 million passenger cars off the road for one year.
  • Reducing 344 million pounds of nutrient loss to the environment
  • Eliminating 116 million metric tons of soil erosion
  • Creating 3.6 million acre-feet of available water capacity in cropland soils

The Soil Health Roadmap is comprised of 10 recommendations spanning the Science, Economic and Policy sectors.

Science and Research
Overcome the science and research gap to support expansion of soil health management

1. Create cost-effective soil health measurement standards and tools
2. Develop operational management strategies for adaptively integrating soil health practices and systems
3. Advance the science of soil health benefits

Economic
Overcome economic obstacles by providing the market systems to secure soil health:

4. Align incentives between landowners and farmers
5. Leverage technological innovation to overcome operational hurdles
6. Provide broader access to products and services supporting soil health
7. Create market signals in sustainability programs for soil health

Policy
Improve the policy environment to advance soil health:

8. Reward farmers who optimize long-term soil health with lower crop insurance premiums
9. Support policies that which enable greater investment in soil health
10. Build a more diverse constituency for soil health policy 

Dig deeper into the science of the Soil Health Roadmap. Download the full paper.

Note: To produce these estimates our interdisciplinary team had to make a number of assumptions and choose a single value for costs and benefits that in reality vary considerably across the United States. The team believes that this approach is reasonable for the purpose of coming up with rough estimates of potential impacts and benefits around soil health in the U.S. However, the estimates should not be used at a local or regional scale (e.g. to calculate the aggregate impacts of changes made at the farm scale, or for a farmer to determine what their specific experience will be.)

For those interested in more details on the calculations and coefficients used in the paper, contact soil@tnc.org for a copy of the full spreadsheet used for calculations in the paper. 



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