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Soil Health Researchers Launch Farmer Survey in New York State

Study Will Analyze Economic and Environmental Benefits of Cover Crops and Other Farm Practices

A state-wide survey of New York farmers is underway, with the aim of highlighting economic costs and benefits associated with maintaining and improving agricultural soil health. The survey, which will examine the agricultural practices of using cover crops and reduced tillage, is being conducted by the New York State Soil Health Workgroup and funded by NYS Department of Ag and Markets.

The New York State Soil Health Workgroup is a network of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers working to keep the state’s agricultural soils healthy and productive in the future. As part of these efforts, the group has recently launched a survey to explore farm practices that impact soil health, productivity, and farm profits. The survey is currently underway and will run until March 10th, 2018. The survey questionnaire can be completed by New York State farmers through an online link at http://tinyurl.com/NYsoilsurvey. A paper form of the questionnaire is also available at the Soil Health Group’s website (https://blogs.cornell.edu/soilhealthinitiative/) which can be printed and returned to the researchers by mail.

“Soil health offers a lot of win-win solutions” said David Wolfe, a professor who studies soil and water management at Cornell University. Our efforts to improve soil health are “directly affecting farmers and healthy food for all of us, but also all kinds of environmental issues: erosion, water quality, food security and climate change challenges. They’re all part of this”. New York State contains over 7 million acres of active farmland that are used to produce a wide variety of agricultural crops including apples, grapes, vegetables, corn, and soybeans. While agricultural soils are crucial to the state’s farms, they also provide other benefits to society such as protection of water resources and reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas). However, these soils suffer from compaction and loss of organic matter, and generally the health of these soils has degraded over time as a result of intensive use.

The New York State Soil Health Workgroup is looking for ways to improve and promote on-farm practices such as cover crops that bolster soil health. One of the group’s principal investigators is Matt Ryan, who conducts research on sustainable cropping systems. “Cover crops can do a number of different things, provide a number of benefits. They can protect soil from erosion, they can suppress pests, but they’re also one of the best tools that we have for building and increasing soil health”, Ryan stated. The practice of using cover crops to protect bare soil and build organic matter could be greatly expanded in New York state, and the survey is one way that the researchers are working to get a better handle on how cover crops are being used, what impact they have on farm profitability, and why some farmers have yet to adopt the practice. “We’re looking at different ways to overcome this barrier to adoption” Ryan added.

The researchers urge farmers to participate in the study by completing the 10-minute questionnaire via the online link at https://tinyurl.com/NYsoilsurvey before March 10th, 2018. A paper form of the questionnaire can be downloaded and printed, and more information about soil health and the Workgroup is available at their website; https://blogs.cornell.edu/soilhealthinitiative/. Questions about the New York State Soil Health Workgroup’s research can be directed to Cedric Mason at (607) 255-8641 or cwm77@cornell.edu.

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