Better Soil, Better Future: The Morrisville Institute aspires to a fertile future; $2 million Walmart grant helps

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – By 2050, global agricultural systems will need to provide food, fiber and fuel to an additional 2 billion people, or about 9.8 billion in total.

If that’s not daunting enough, consider that over the past century, soils have lost 40-60% of the building block that makes them productive, organic carbon. The societal and environmental costs of soil loss and degradation in the United States alone are estimated at $85 billion per year.

Soil Health Institute

This picture becomes even darker with the impending impact of climate change caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists predict that drought due to climate change will desiccate more than 30% of the world’s arable land by the end of the century, 30 times more than today.

“We are at a critical time in human history where we need to address these challenges, and soil health is the framework for doing that,” said Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., a soil scientist who grew up growing soil. tobacco, corn and other crops on the family’s 120-acre farm in Metcalfe County, Kentucky.

Honeycutt is President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute, a global non-profit organization based in Morrisville that aims to preserve and improve soil vitality and productivity through scientific research and education.

The Institute’s team of approximately two dozen scientists and educators partners with more than 160 organizations and individuals to conduct research and enable farmers and other landowners to adopt regenerative systems of soil health that bring economic and environmental benefits to agriculture and society.

Walmart grant funds cotton work

One of the institute’s major initiatives, the US Regenerative Cotton Fund (USCRF), received a $2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation this month. The three-year grant will help USCRF expand its work to help Southern cotton farmers adopt regenerative soil health systems aimed at removing 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere of here 2026.

“Regenerative soil health systems can deliver significant benefits to farmers, food supply chains, our climate and nature,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president of Walmart Inc. and President of the Walmart Foundation. “However, uptake of soil health practices remains low. The USRCF’s science-based approach empowers farmers and aligns with the Foundation’s work on regenerative agriculture. We are excited to support this ambitious project to help farmers with the resources and tools they need to adopt more regenerative systems and accurately measure the results of these practices for their land and livelihoods.

The grant will help expand USRCF activities and expand the initiative to Alabama and South Carolina.

“The drought conditions that have swept across the cotton belt this year only underscore the importance of soil health systems to farmers’ livelihoods, as they can build drought resilience and increase profitability,” said Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., Scientific Director of the Institute, “We feel fortunate to have the support of the Walmart Foundation which will allow us to extend the reach and impact of the USRCF to the Alabama and South Carolina.

The new activities will build on work started last year in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. In these states, the USRCF:

  • set up farmer-to-farmer education networks with more than 100 cotton farmers
  • offered 12 education programs;
  • sampled soils at more than 200 locations to develop soil health and soil carbon goals;
  • interviewed farmers managing 11,000 acres to assess their economic experiences with regenerative systems;
  • provided initial economic results to producers managing 187,000 acres; and
  • mentored five intern students from historically black colleges and universities to help them prepare for leadership positions in American agriculture. (One of those interns, Jordan Kelly, is from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. Kelly is an undergraduate student majoring in sustainable land management and food systems. She plans to become an agricultural scientist. ‘environment.)

New strategic objectives

Research shows that improving soil health in agricultural systems increases carbon sequestration, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, increases drought resistance, improves water quality, increases yield of crops, increases nutrient availability and suppresses many plant diseases.

Yet today, only 5% of cropland in the United States is managed using the basic soil health practice of cover cropping, according to the Institute. Adoption is hampered by gaps in information about the economic benefits of soil health practices, lack of scientific knowledge about how a given soil can become healthy and what this means for land managers and developers. environment, and a scarcity of locally relevant resources and mentoring networks for farmers.

To address these issues, the Institute announced five new strategic goals in July:

  • Climate change: Providing the soil science knowledge and tactics needed for agriculture to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Regenerative agriculture: Provide scientific leadership to understand, manage and measure soil health systems contributing to regenerative land management in agriculture and other ecosystems.
  • Water resources: Providing the soil science knowledge and tactics needed to improve water quality and quantity with soil health systems.
  • Farmer empowerment: Provide farmers with the information they need when selecting and implementing cost-effective, resilient and environmentally responsible soil health systems.
  • Consumer demand policy more: Provide the science, metrics, information and partnerships that will inform consumer demand and policy for food, fiber, feed and fuel grown using soil health systems .

“Bold challenges require bold action,” Honeycutt said, “so we will use cross-cutting tactics that allow us to address multiple strategic objectives simultaneously. For example, we believe land managers will be motivated to improve soil health once they learn how healthy their soils can become and what that means for increasing drought resistance, nutrient availability and profitability.

To fill this gap, the Institute is establishing soil health goals that will illustrate to farmers, ranchers and their advisors how healthy their soils are and how healthy they can become. Since organic matter is an important measure of soil health, this will also provide farmers with an assessment of how much carbon their soils can store.

“These science-based targets will give farmers the information they need when considering new management practices that will simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build drought resilience, improve water quality water, increase profitability and meet growing consumer demand for food and fiber grown using regenerative soil health systems,” Honeycutt said.

The Institute has produced a compelling one-hour YouTube video on the history of the soil health movement. This is called “living soil”.

(C) NC Biotechnology Center

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