Soil Health Institute Publishes Report Evaluating Literature on the Relationships between Soil Health and Food Nutritional Quality

Feb 3, 2022 9:00 AM ET

MORRISVILLE, N.C., FEBRUARY 3, 2022 /3BL Media/ - The Soil Health Institute (SHI), the non-profit charged with safeguarding and enhancing the vitality and productivity of soils, has released “Exploring the Relationship Between Soil Health and Food Nutritional Quality: A Summary of Research Literature.”

Many on-farm and environmental benefits are associated with improving soil health. However, less is known about the relationship between soil health and food nutritional quality. Such a relationship would conceivably drive more demand for food grown using soil health practices, thereby bringing more environmental benefits to scale.

Supported by a grant from Hellmann’s, the Soil Health Institute partnered with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University to explore these relationships using data published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The team found that very few studies reported sufficient data on the full breadth of crop and soil management, soil health measurements, and food nutritional quality required for thoroughly evaluating those relationships. For example, studies demonstrating differences in nutritional composition of food under different management practices often did not measure key parameters needed for assessing soil health.

Based on these findings, the team recommended that future studies be designed and conducted on this topic that include:

  • well-defined and consistently applied management practices;
  • standardized, uniformly applied measurements of soil health, inherent soil properties (beyond those changed by management), crop growth, crop nutrient concentration, and total crop nutrient content; and
  • interdisciplinary teams consisting of agronomists, soil health scientists, human nutritionists, and others that are needed to interpret the connections among management practices, soil health, and nutritional quality of the food produced.

Authors of the report are Dana Bourne, former graduate student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, and current Sustainable Agriculture Manager at Stonyfield Organic; Timothy Griffin, Ph.D., Division Chair for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University; and Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute.

“Little research of this nature has been conducted,” said Dr. Honeycutt. “However, everything we know about how improving soil health increases nutrient availability in soils and nutrient uptake by plants points to the likelihood of increasing food nutritional quality using soil health management systems. Consequently, I do not find these results discouraging, but only a reflection of the fact that we were limited to evaluating data from studies not really designed to address the question we wanted to answer. It is our hope that the guidance provided in this publication can serve the broader community in designing specific experiments that may lead to discovering causal relationships between soil health and human health through the crop nutrition pathway. In the meantime, we will continue advancing adoption of regenerative soil health systems knowing that their benefits to water quality, climate change mitigation, and other connections to human health are already well established.”

To learn more, read the full report or the executive summary.

About the Soil Health Institute
The Soil Health Institute is a global 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement. We bring together leaders in soil health science and the industry to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners adopt soil health systems that build drought resilience, stabilize yield, and benefit their bottom line. The Institute’s team of scientists, holding doctorates in various soil science and related disciplines, has developed highly effective soil health targets and standardized measurements to quantify progress at achieving regenerative and sustainable agricultural systems, and leads the cutting-edge fields of carbon sequestration and decoding the soil microbiome. Healthy soils are the foundation for rejuvenating our land. Together, we can create a secure future for all, mitigate the effects of climate change, and help agriculture and organizations meet production and environmental goals at scale.

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