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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 the health of their soils, and see how their soil health data compares to the data of their peers. Since 2016, more than 60 farms have participated in the study. This includes vegetable farms, row crop farms, and pastured livestock farms.

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?

If you own or manage a farm in Pennsylvania and are passionate about improving your soil health, you are eligible to participate! You can join the project as either a citizen scientist or as a research collaborator. Here’s the difference:


Citizen scientist

Citizens scientists collect their own soil samples and compare their measurements to our research benchmarks. All farmers are eligible to join the project as a citizen scientist.

To participate at this level, you’ll need to:

Citizen scientists receive a technical report that includes data from our Soil Health Benchmark Study, which can be used to assess your efforts to improve soil health on your farm.


Research collaborator

Research collaborators contribute soil tests and detailed farm management records to our ongoing study using a rigorous set of methods. A limited number of farmers are eligible to join the project as research collaborators. We’ll determine if you’re eligible by considering the current range of farms that are already participating in the study. To generate useful soil health data for analysis, we strive to enlist a core group of research collaborators who collectively represent a diverse array of farms and farming methods.

To participate at this level, you’ll need to:

Research collaborators receive:

  • Three subsidized soil health tests (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 soil health on your farm
  • Marketing tools to help your customers and stakeholders understand the important work you’re doing to build soil health and a sustainable future

Whether you join the project as a citizen scientist or a research collaborator, you’ll have opportunities to connect with a learning community of your peers who are working to devise practical solutions to soil health challenges. You’ll also be contributing to a growing body of soil health data that farmers everywhere can use to benchmark their progress against.

How can I participate?

Participating is simple. First, complete this brief survey about basic aspects of your farm. We will then contact you to discuss how your farm will best fit within our project.

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

Instructions for taking soil samples

If you’re participating in our Soil Health Benchmark Study as either a research collaborator or a citizen scientist, watch this short video to learn how to take precise soil samples and how submit them to the Cornell Soil Health Lab.