The Maine Soil Health Network supports, informs and incentivizes farmers to improve the health of their soils and the resilience of their farms for the future.
The Soil Health Network is a program created by Maine Farmland Trust and the Wolfe’s Neck Center that supports farms in learning about the effects of different farm management practices on the farm’s soil and deciding which practices to use in the future.
Soil Health Benchmarking
Soil degradation through agriculture is a major global threat, as farming practices like intensive tillage and the use of chemical fertilizers lead to not only soil loss through erosion and run-off, but also greater carbon emissions and reduced carbon sequestration. Participation in the Soil Health Network allows farms to learn about the impacts of their farm management practices on their soil health through the Soil Health Benchmark Study. This study, coordinated by Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, benchmarks soil health outcomes like organic matter levels against other farms of similar scales and crop types, using data from over one hundred farms.
Farmers monitor three fields over the course of three years through annual soil tests and management records of all soil disturbance. Over time, farmers will also see how their soil health outcomes compare to previous years, learning whether their management practices are improving or reducing soil health over time.
MFT’s easements represent our perpetual commitment to stewarding Maine farmland in partnership with farm owners. The Soil Health Network is a new way for us to support, inform and incentivize farmers to use practices that improve their soil health for the future.” – Sarah Simon, MFT’s Farmland Access & Farmland Viability Director
Soil Health as a Climate Adaptation Strategy
In the years to come, Maine farmers will need to adapt to the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, excess rainfall and drought, and seasonal variability caused by climate change. The Soil Health Network supports farmers in learning about the impacts of climate change on soil health and farm resilience, and in making decisions to allow their farms to adapt to changing weather patterns and to mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration and reduced emissions.
Each year, the farmers in the Network gather for winter workshops and summer farm events to learn together, both from each other and from outside experts.
Each farm in the Network also creates a climate adaptation plan where they identify the top risks that climate change poses to their farm, and actions they can take to mitigate those risks in the short and long term. The Network then provides a mini-grant to fund farm projects based on those plans, which may include actions to control erosion on sloped fields, reduce tillage or increase organic matter on farms.
MFT’s core partner for the Soil Health Network is the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, whose OpenTEAM Initiative is working to develop open source software that allows farmers to track and measure soil health on their farms. The Network uses some of these tools in our data collection! Learn more about Wolfe’s Neck and our other project partners here