February 17, 2022
The Maine Soil Health Network (MSHN) kicked off a great inaugural year of soil sampling and recordkeeping. The MSHN is a project launched in 2021 through a collaboration between Maine Farmland Trust and Wolfe’s Neck Center to provide Maine farmers with information and support to improve soil health on their farms. Through this project, the MSHN provides soil sampling training for farmers, covers the cost of soil sampling on three fields on each farm, and supports farmers with soil result interpretation.
To strengthen our work, our network has joined up with Pasa, a Pennsylvania based sustainable agriculture association to participate in their Soil Health Benchmarking Study. This study includes over 200 farmers in Pennsylvania, farmers in Maryland working with Million Acre Challenge and the MSHN. Farmers in the study track management practices and take annual soil samples to compare their soils year after year and to compare their soils to other farms with similar production types, scales and soil types. Pasa has published some of the results from the first five years of the research project, see here for more details.
Each farm in the Soil Health Benchmarking study enters the same management data into an open source survey software platform called SurveyStack. The management data for each farm will be linked to the soils data by the team at Pasa. This ensures that all data is collected, entered, and stored in the same format to allow for the creation of an aggregated data set to answer questions about the impact of management practices on soil health across production and soil types. SurveyStack is one of the software tools that is part of a larger open source technology ecosystem called OpenTEAM. OpenTEAM, Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management is a project facilitated by Wolfe’s Neck Center and funded by the Foundation for Food & Agricultural Research. It is a community of tech developers, farmers, ranchers, technical service providers and researchers from all over the country working together to advance soil health and mitigate climate change from the ground up. More than 45 partner organizations and 200 individuals have joined the initiative. The OpenTEAM community enables exchange of agricultural knowledge, information and inspiration at scale driven by farmer trust and local innovation. The OpenTEAM suite of tools is currently being implemented in farmer networks across the country like Pasa and the MSHN to collect data on soils and management practices to assist farmers make informed decisions, learn from each other, and collaborate.
In the fall of 2021 we worked with Balfour Farm, Bumbleroot Farm, The Milkhouse, South Paw Farm, Two Coves, Erickson Fields, Songbird Farm, Wolfe’s Neck Center and Aldermere Farm. The team from MFT and WNC visited the farms to choose the fields for the study, worked with the farmers to collect soil samples, and assisted with management data input into SurveyStack through two winter workshops. We are eagerly looking forward to receiving the soil test results and final reports from Pasa, which will help guide the farms in their management decisions for the future.