Measuring Soil Health in the Upper Midwest - CIG project

University researchers are working with more than 15 farmers around the state, staff from the Sustainable Farming Association, Stearns and Mower SWCDs, and Sauk Watershed District. We are collecting, analyzing and sharing on-farm soil health data to help farmers and others interpret and use soil health measurements. By the end of 2022, we expect to have guidance for interpreting soil health measurements in Minnesota.

Project update, February 2021 (pdf)

Farmer Interviews

Producers were interviewed to learn how they make soil health management systems work for them both agronomically and financially. Read about farmers interviewed for this and other projects at and in these publications:  Soil Health Case Studies, 2018 and Soil Health Case Studies, 2020 and Soil Health Case Studies, Vol. III 2020 

2021 Field Days

Join us at field days to hear from the farmer cooperators and find out what we are learning.

September 1st: Stearns SWCD is hosting a Soil Stewardship & Nutrient Field Day. 9:30am to 2:30pm, with lunch provided. Agenda and registration.

October 29th:  Hosted by Mower SWCD. 9:30-1:00, including lunch.

 Summer 2021 field days (pdf).

  • June 30th, 9am-3pm: Marshall and Kittson Counties
  • July 14th, 6pm-8pm: Doubting Thomas Farm, Moorhead, MN
  • July 15th, 9am-12pm, and 1:30-4:30pm: Redwood County


Project description

This project is a collaboration of multiple University departments and several local partners across Minnesota. We are collecting on-farm soil health measurements, building a data portal for analyzing soil health measurements from multiple sources, and writing and sharing the stories of farmers incorporating cover crops and reduced tillage into their operations.

Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) have been shown across the country to hold tremendous potential for simultaneously supporting water quality and agricultural productivity. However, adoption of practices that build soil health have been limited in the northern climates of the Dakotas, Minnesota, and neighboring states where cold soils and shorter growing seasons create special challenges to using cover crops and minimal tillage. To increase adoption, farmers and their advisors need to network with other farmers to work out the challenges of building SHMS, and they need more data from their region to provide relevant guidance and support research on how to measure and interpret soil health changes. This project will address these needs by documenting the challenges and payoffs of incorporating SHMS into northern farming operations through farmer interviews and case studies; building a cutting edge online soil health data management system for collecting, synthesizing, analyzing and sharing on-farm soil health information; collecting new on-farm soil health data in regions where data has been sparse; and developing a more effective metric for soil infiltration -- perhaps the most important indicator of the link between soil management and water quality. All of these results will be quantified to measure impact. Most importantly, this work will be done in a way that leverages and strengthens the dispersed local networks of farmers and advisors who have been primarily responsible for developing SHMS and spreading their adoption. We expect the project to result in stronger connections between local partners and farmer collaborators, more farmer-to-farmer connections, greater access by farmers and researchers to soil health data and practical information about the benefits and challenges of SHMS. Case studies and other project products will be shared in a way that encourages direct contact and learning between farmers, researchers and agencies to accelerate adoption. The partners on this project are particularly well-positioned to succeed: the local partners have been leaders for many years building networks and implementing SHMS; the WRC and BWSR recently created the MN Office for Soil Health, which has the institutional capacity and academic networks to house the project; and the MN Supercomputing Institute is home to the cutting-edge data management system that will be used to create the data portal.


Measuring Soil Health in the Upper Midwest to Improve Water Quality. Lewandowski, A. M., Current, D. A., Gutknecht, J. L., Jelinski, N. A., Levers, L., Magner, J. A. & Prather, T.  Funder: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). $885,047. 9/28/18 to  9/30/21