Measuring Soil Health in the Upper Midwest - CIG project

The Minnesota Office for Soil Health (MOSH) collaborated with six university partners, six external partners, and 27 farmer collaborators to learn what soil health looks like in Minnesota. 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 addressed these needs by collecting new on-farm soil health data in regions where data has been sparse; examining soil infiltration as a key soil health indicator; documenting the challenges and payoffs of incorporating SHMS into northern farming operations through farmer interviews and case studies; and building a cutting edge online soil health data management system where researchers from across the country can add datasets to be synthesized and analyzed alongside others. 
Most importantly, this work was designed to leverage and strengthen local networks of farmers and advisors who are scattered across the state. These networks are the leading edge developing SHMSs and spreading their adoption. Researchers worked through these existing networks instead of reaching out to farmers individually. Farmers discussed results together, and case studies were shared on the FarmMaps platform that encourages farmers to reach out to other farmers.

Project reports

Final report July 2023 (pdf)

Field data is summarized in a storymap at

Guide for Selecting soil health indicators (pdf) for different purposes

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 and Soil Health Case Studies, Vol. IV 2021

Evaluation of case studies (pdf). Farmers featured in the case studies and the organizations who use the stories were interviewed to learn about the value of the process and how to improve outreach among farmers. 

Project update, February 2021 (pdf)


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) NR183A750008G011