Developing an Affordable Soil Health Test for the Appalachian Region to Incentivize Sustainable Agricultural Production

Grants and Contracts Details


Soil health is the outgrowth of recognition that soil is a dynamic and complex environment harboring multiple functions. For the small-scale farmer, adopting practices known to improve soil health is hampered by the expense of laboratory soil tests giving quantitative measures of soil health that may be related to productivity. The suite of approved/proposed soil health measures to be provided through routine laboratory tests has not been examined for their value to, and potential adoption by, small farmers. We propose an iterative and participative threestage approach to increased soil health adoption that relies on field and laboratory research, economic assessment, and education. Team members will identify 25 to 50 participating farmers representing two key Appalachian region land uses located in West Virginia; high tunnel production (USDA defined specialty crop) and managed grasslands (hay/pastures). Stage 1: Farmers will be identified by the WVU Soil Testing Lab and WVU extension agents. Based on soil samples collected from these farms, and considering soil health variables suited to laboratory determination, we will work field-to-lab to identify the most responsive laboratory biological (e.g. respiration, enzyme), chemical (e.g. nutrients) and physical (e.g. aggregation) methods to distinguish categorical soil health levels (e.g. poor, good, excellent) related to land-use productivity. Soil health test results will be correlated to productivity of chosen land uses so as to generate preliminary management recommendations. Correlation will be based on yield measurements for the crops common to high tunnels and grasslands and/or to indigenous productivity knowledge. A short-term evaluation of perceived benefits from soil health testing will be made. Surveys will evaluate interest and potential adoption by additional farmers. Stage 2: Cost optimization for the best soil health tests previously identified will be used to select the best combination of analyses (price/efficiency/farmer approval) for Appalachian farmers. Our goal is to create a suite of soil health tests with a cost of less than $35 for WV landowners (WV partially subsidizes routine analyses) and less than $45 for other Appalachian states. Stage 3: For the methods selected in Stage 2, we will design field soil sampling and sample submission methods, a sampling Do-It-Yourself ‘kit’ for the Appalachian region. With the participation and feedback of early farmer participants, and support of extension agents from several WV counties, educational videos will be developed to illustrate to prospective users the how, when, and where of effective soil health sampling, lab report interpretation, and the economic and environmental benefits to implementation of recommended practices. Early adopters can demonstrate the effectiveness of improved soil health management and stimulate the broader adoption of soil health testing and soil health management.
Effective start/end date3/1/212/29/24


  • West Virginia University: $63,380.00


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