Soil Health Benchmarking Program
Benchmarks move soil health from being a concept to a manageable issue, where farmers can measure and evaluate the impact of different beneficial management practices (BMPs), leading to greater adoption rates. Farmers know healthy soils are key to improving farm productivity and profitability, while at the same time sequestering carbon, improving biodiversity, and supporting ecosystem health. But we can’t ask farmers to manage what they can’t measure. By providing the ability to track and measure soil health, farmers can make informed decisions about which practices are right for their farm. This can lead to increased yields, reduced input costs, improved water holding capacity, and increased carbon sequestration, among other benefits.
The Greenbelt Foundation and soil scientists at the Soil Health Institute are working together with Ontario agricultural partners to develop an interpretable, scalable, locally relevant method for evaluating and monitoring soil health. We refer to these as "Soil Health Benchmarks" and they will enable farmers to:
- Evaluate their current soil health compared to similar soils in their region.
- Understand how much healthier their soil can be.
- Measure and track the impact of different management practices on soil health.
By offering the soil sampling program for free to landowners across the Greenbelt's counties and regions, the Greenbelt Foundation is providing an opportunity for a wider range of farmers to learn about the health of their soil and take steps to improve it. If you are a grain or oilseed farmer and would like to sign up for free soil health sampling and assessment, please fill out the information below and someone from the Greenbelt Foundation will be in touch to assess your eligibility.
What does it cost?
- Participation is FREE!
What does participation involve?
- A short call: A representative from the Greenbelt Foundation will contact you to determine if your farm is a good fit for the study. This call will provide an opportunity for you to learn more about the program and ask any questions you may have.
- A visit to your farm: A Greenbelt Foundation representative will visit your farm in the spring, at a mutually agreed-upon time, to collect soil samples.
- A short interview: If your farm is eligible, you will be asked to participate in a short interview to provide information about your soil management history. This typically takes about 30 minutes, and you will be asked to provide information about the types of crops you grow and the management practices you use on your farm.
What’s in it for you?
- A comprehensive soil health report: Participants will receive soil health data and locally relevant soil health interpretations to understand the results and set achievable soil health goals.
- Measurements that reflect overall soil function for carbon cycling and storage, water cycling and storage, and nutrient cycling: This information will provide valuable insights into the current state of your soil and help you identify areas for improvement.
- One-on-one support: You will receive one-on-one support from a Soil Health Specialist who can help you set goals and overcome barriers.
- Data privacy guarantee: The Greenbelt Foundation values the privacy of your data, and you can be assured that your information will be protected.
- Be part of an innovative project: By participating in this program, you will be a part of an innovative project that is working to advance soil health assessment in Ontario. You will have the opportunity to contribute to the development of new methods for evaluating and monitoring soil health, and to help improve soil health for all farmers in the region.
Continue reading for further information about the program.
To develop the Benchmarks, Soil Scientists from the Soil Health Institute will group soils based on soil texture, drainage class, and other inherent factors. Extensive testing across three management systems (baseline sites, soil health sites and reference sites) will be conducted throughout 2023 and 2024 to collect soil data to establish soil health potential for soil groups across Greenbelt counties and regions. This will allow farmers to sample their soil and see where their soil falls on the spectrum ranging from the baseline to the reference. We know science-informed benchmarks and comparable metrics are important to farmers and will lead to greater confidence and acceptance of the validity and effectiveness of using BMPs. Farmers will receive a report to support their individual goals (i.e., their individual “benchmark”).
The program aims to sample 300-500 farms over the course of the program, and all soil testing, education, and support services are offered free to farmers. This is a great opportunity for farmers to have their soil health measured and to receive support in improving the health of thier soil, which can have a positive impact on a farm's productivity and profitability. The program is designed to provide farmers with valuable information and resources to help them manage their soil in a sustainable way, and to support the advancement of soil health assessment in Ontario.
The program is a collaborative effort between the Greenbelt Foundation, the Soil Health Institute, and several Ontario agricultural organizations including Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Soils at Guelph, and the Ontario Certified Crop Advisor Association. The 4-year program will integrate tests and benchmarks into existing outreach programs and use the power of farmer-to-farmer social networks through local grassroots farmer organizations and trusted advisors. A soil health database will help farmers continuously manage their soils, monitor progress and measure the impacts of different BMPs and their investments, leading reducing barriers to adoption.
The Greenbelt Foundation recognizes the importance of investing in soil health to ensure a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector that feeds Ontarians into the future. By working together, we are helping to build a more sustainable future for farmers and the agricultural community.
This project is generously funded by the Weston Family Foundation and the Government of Ontario.