Grow the soil health movement.

Our Soil Health Benchmark Study is a citizen-science project that began in 2016. The study lets farmers comprehensively assess of the health of their soils, and see how their soil health data compares to the data of their peers.

By identifying soil health benchmarks, this project gives farmers a much clearer picture of whether their sustainable soil health management techniques are achieving their intended results, or if there’s room for improvement.

Additionally, the participatory nature of this study provides farmers forums to discuss their soil health management strategies, and collaborate to develop innovative yet practical solutions to common soil health issues.

What soil health benchmarks are being measured?

We’re measuring a comprehensive array of physical, biological, and chemical attributes of soil, including aggregate stability, organic matter, microbial respiration, and nutrient levels. We’re also putting these soil attributes into the context of field management techniques, including tillage frequency and intensity, cover cropping, and organic matter inputs.

Who can participate in the study?

If you own or manage a commercial farm in Pennsylvania and are passionate about improving your soil, you are eligible to participate in this study. We are currently recruiting farmers who are managing the following types of farms: organic vegetables, conventional vegetables, no-till row crops, and grazing dairies.

What are the benefits of participating?

Beyond contributing to a dataset that will help farmers everywhere more effectively improve their soil health, you’ll also receive:

  • Three subsidized comprehensive soil tests from the Cornell Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (up to $330 value)
  • A detailed soil health benchmark report that illustrates how your soil health outcomes and soil management practices compare to peer farms.
  • Personalized resources that help you set a course for continuing to improve the soil health on your farm
  • Opportunities to connect with a learning community of your peers who are working to solve practical soil health challenges
  • Marketing tools to help your customers and stakeholders understand the great work you’re doing for soil health and building a sustainable future.

How can I participate?

Participating is simple. First, complete this brief survey about basic aspects of your farm to see if it’s a good match for the study considering the range of current participants. 

If your farm is eligible to participate, we’ll work with you to submit soil samples to the Cornell Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health.

We’ll need you to share your management records for tillage and cultivation; crop and cover crop planting dates; and applied fertilizers and soil amendments. (Most farms are already maintaining these records.)

As with all of our research projects, your farm’s data will be kept strictly confidential. We’ll only share general trends and insights.

What we’ve learned so far

Since 2016, 28 farms have been included in the study. This includes 24 farms that are either certified organic or primarily use organic growing methods, and four no-till row crop farms.

We’ve learned that our member farmers:

  • Grow soil organic matter levels 1.9 times higher than Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) expectations for their soil types.
  • Maintain living vegetation on their fields for 240 days—84 days longer than a typical Pennsylvania corn and soybean rotation without cover crops.
  • Show optimal soil health scores according to the Cornell Soil Health Lab.