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New Year. Big Goals. Better Soil

10th Jan 2017

Source: Nurture, Grow, Give, Repeat blog. 

A New Year with new health goals - for soil, at least.

Kansas State alumnus Michael Doane has left his 16-year career with Monsanto Co. to join a charitable environmental organization to see if he can make a difference in the fight for sustainable agriculture and a healthier earth. Doane, now director of working lands at the Nature Conservancy, has landed as the project leader on one of the largest environmental initiatives ever undertaken by the organization.

This non-profit project called reThink Soil, a Roadmap to U.S. Soil Health, hopes to transform the way farmers approach and protect the quality of their soil. The ReThinkSoil project will work to inform farmers of the importance of practices like cutting back on tillage, making use of cover crops, and engaging in considered crop rotation. The Nature Conservancy said reThink Soil plans to use their outline of 10 key steps, covering science, the economy, and policy priorities, to achieve widespread adoption of adaptive soil health systems across America. So widespread, in fact, the Soil Health Roadmap plans to be used on more than 50% of U.S. cropland by 2025.

“Drawing upon respected analyses in soil health literature, The Nature Conservancy estimates the annual societal and environmental costs of the status quo are up to $85.1 billion annually through unintended effects on human health, property, energy, endangered species, loss of biodiversity, eutrophication, contamination, agriculture productivity, and resilience,” the non-profit organization told Food Business News, explaining its focus on improving soil health.

The organization also explained that adaptive management for soil health involves minimizing soil disturbance while increasing plant diversity, which allows more continuous plant and residue covers to create important living ecosystems in the soil.

“In turn, the soil nurtures a complex web of microbes with the healthiest soils often being those with the greatest diversity and abundance of life,” said the Nature Conservancy. “Healthy soil more efficiently stores and recycles carbon, water, and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.”

The Conservancy emphasized that good soil science backs all of the soil management practices being highlighted by reThink Soil.

Preservation, protection, and restoration also seem to be Doane’s main interests. He told Milling & Baking News his move to a non-profit environmental organization from Monsanto was driven by the opportunity to deepen his involvement in conservation. With his last 20 years working in that private sector, combined with the reThink Soil initiative, Doane feels now is a great time to join the Conservancy’s mission.

“I have always been interested in conservation, starting by growing up on a farm and studying environmental issues in college…” he said. “The Conservancy really came at a time when I was open to trying to think about where I could make a greater contribution on the issues that I felt were most at my core.”

Another inspiration for Doane and reThink Soil is the farmer. Doane feels working on soil health will have bottom-line benefits for producers, big and small.

“What has inspired our focus on soil is that we think is can be economically beneficial for farmers,” he said. “That’s what makes it special. Farms today are small businesses, and some are not small businesses. They’re actually large sophisticated businesses by almost any measure. They’re businesses, nevertheless, and they have to recoup investments and turn a profit.”

The reThink Soil project has estimated a very positive return on investment associated with the commitments to soil health that they recommend.

With big goals come big challenges. Like all new agriculture advancements, getting more traditionally-minded producers on board can be difficult – especially those in doubt of climate change. This threat to agricultural productivity comes at a time when the world’s population is continuing to grow, hitting an expected nine billion by 2050. Adopting technology, climate change and other issues gather urgency when faced with the scenario of growing enough food for an increasing world population later this century.


“The models show that food production will be more challenging in several significant breadbaskets around the world,” Mr. Doane said. “Improving soil health could provide a solution.”

Ms. Vollmer-Sanders also emphasized that reThink Soil wasn’t designed to create a confrontational atmosphere between environment concerns and agriculture.

“At the Nature Conservancy, we like to be the ‘and’ solution: environmental and agricultural,” she said. “so when we’re looking for people to fill different roles in the agricultural arena, it’s good to have a background in agriculture; it’s good to understand the industry and come at it with a ‘how can we do both together’ — how can we help the environment and keep agriculture healthy.”

For Doane, the background in agriculture from his upbringing in Kansas, involvement in AGR and work at Monsanto, will help in the goal of a win-win result; healthy soil and profits for farmers, businesses and communities.

For more information on the reTHink Soil initiative click here.