A group farmers, companies, conservation foundations and other stakeholders are taking the next step toward improving soil health in northeast Missouri and throughout the country through a new $9.4 million grant.

A group farmers, companies, conservation foundations and other stakeholders are taking the next step toward improving soil health in northeast Missouri and throughout the country through a new $9.4 million grant.

The grant was awarded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through the 2014 Farm Bill, to the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership and the Nature Conservancy to improve soil health and bolster success for American farmers. The grant will be matched by several companies and donors to create a total investment of nearly $20 million: General Mills, Midwest Row Crop Initiative, Monsanto, Nestle Purina PetCare Company, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Walmart Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and individual donors.

The project will focus on collaborate research and education programs to encourage national soil health management practices. Research shows that farming practices that improve soil health can increase productivity whole conserving resources like air and water.

Currently, there is no standardized measurement for soil health. The project will help industry members adopt standardized measurements and education techniques to help local farmers, agronomists and landowners.

“If we can unlock the potential for healthy soil, we can move closer to a sustainable agricultural system for everyone,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to harness the power of collaboration by supporting three leading organizations in this space for the long-term benefit of our nation's farmers and food system.”

Project collaborators will approach the Soil Health Initiative with three steps:

The Soil Health Institute will develop and and test soil health measurements

The Soil Health Partnership will develop and evaluate soil health-promoting practices on working farms

The Nature Conservancy will work with non-operator landowners to encourage science-based soil health practices.

Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of the Soil Health Initiative, said the project will allow far more research and action than any one entity could provide — combining funds authorized by Congress with the work of various organizations, companies, farmers and landowners.

FFAR is supporting the collaborative project through its Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area, which focuses on building knowledge, fueling innovation and enabling adoption practices for soil health.