Soil Health Education for Massachusetts Agricultural Service Providers

In Massachusetts and beyond, the science regarding the many dimensions of soil health continues to evolve, and there are many voices speaking to farmers about this topic, sometimes with different messages. This leads to confusion about which practices are appropriate on which farms and which decisions are supported by scientific evidence or can be practically implemented. Service providers from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, local Conservation districts, Extension personnel, Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, and Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts have all expressed a need and commitment to this project and to support farmers in soil health science and practice.

This project is establishing UMass Soil Health Working Group comprised of Extension professionals and faculty in several UMass academic departments. The group will support knowledge exchange around the fundamentals of soil science and cutting-edge research in soil health. A key goal is to increase the level of expertise in soil health among personnel serving farmers and increase the role of the UMass Soil Testing lab in this work.

The project team will also hold an annual winter soil health school training event for up to 50 Extension agents and other agricultural service providers. In addition, the team is offering 10 in-person on-farm and/or virtual workshops over the course of the three-year project. These events will support the development of soil health educational resources and outreach to farmers to meet the project’s performance target.

Performance target: Five UMass Extension professionals who participate in the Soil Health Working Group and/or Soil Health training opportunities integrate knowledge gained into advice and services provided to 100 farmers, collectively responsible for managing a minimum of 2000 acres of land. Forty non-Extension Agricultural Service Providers who participate in Soil Health training opportunities report increased Soil Health knowledge and confidence and intention to incorporate knowledge into advice and services provided to 200 farmers.

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