Soil Health Hawaii

Soil health is a topic of concern among a growing population of  agriculturalists and an increasingly vocal public promoting sustainable, managed landscapes. It is also the current focus of a national initiative through the USDA-NRCS to provide relevant and useful information to farmers to improve long-term ecosystem function of agricultural soils. Soil health Key Points from the NRCS may be found here; their Fact Sheets may be found here.

A fundamental tenet of sustainable agriculture is the philosophy that sustainability is underpinned by maintaining a “healthy” soil. While there may be some agreement on the general academic definition of soil health as “…the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, maintain the quality of air and water environments, and promote plant, animal, and human health” (Doran et al., 1996), there remains considerable debate among the soil science community as to how soil health should be measured.  The Soil Health Institute, a public-private partnership and the Cornell Soil Health Testing Laboratory are moving the conversation forward at the national level.

To provide geographically specific information on Soil Health in Hawaii, we currently are asking: what metrics comprise the critical factors necessary to develop an organic matter-based soil health index for Hawaii’s diverse, tropical soils?  Further, what advice do we provide Hawaii (and Pacific Islander) farmers for management to improve soil health for greater resilience and sustainability of our agroecosystems in the future? At this stage of the project, we visited farmers and land managers across multiple islands with soil under a wide range of current soil health status and land use.  These soils will be measured for over 25 metrics of soil health.  From there, we will reduce those to a few key factors that provide an index of soil health appropriate for Hawaii’s diverse soils, cropping systems, and producers.

Next, we are building a network of producers to bring the Hawaii community together to provide information, soil health measurements, and data monitoring and analytics.  Soon, we will demo a technical tool and start a soil health Hawaii project blog designed to inform, engage, and understand the community’s needs as we move forward with our research into soil health and potential carbon sequestration in Hawaii.

Resources:

Press release for our recent papers on the ecology of soil carbon and need for data synthesis to know the potential for soil management to mitigate climate change.

NYT article on regenerative pasture and soil carbon, Hawaii’s progressive legislation for the Carbon Farming Task Force got a mention near the end!