New York Soil Health Specialists - American Farmland Trust

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New York Soil Health Specialists

American Farmland Trust, Cornell Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health Program, and partners launched the Practical Soil Health Specialist Training Program in 2018 to establish a network of agricultural service professionals to support and educate farmers to improve soil health on their land. Specialist trainees get an in-depth understanding of what soil health is, how it can be measured and monitored over time, and how soil health can be improved through holistic, adaptive, and data-driven soil management.

In January 2020, participants in the New York Soil Health Specialists program wrapped up their training and are now putting their experience into action, sharing their knowledge with farmers in their service region of New York over the course of the next year. Through one-on-one consultations and soil health workshops of their own, soil health specialists anticipate reaching 400 farmers operating 80,000 acres of farmland through field days, and anticipate engaging with 50 farmers to conduct soil health assessments, develop soil health plans, or implement soil health practices such as cover cropping, reducing tillage, rotating crops and more efficiently managing nutrients 

Please return to this page for future workshops and opportunities offered by the New York Soil Health Specialists across the state.

For more information please contact:

Aaron Ristow, Agricultural Stewardship Program Manager, American Farmland Trust, at


Workshop 1: Program Orientation and Basic Soil Health Assessment

This two-day workshop started with an orientation for participants on the requirements and expectations of the program, and an introduction to soil health principles and functions. Presenters shared the latest on soil biology and ecology, soil health indicators, assessment techniques and soil health management planning. The on-farm component was held at a local dairy and focused on in-field soil health indicators, using soil pits as a teaching and demonstration tool, and learning about soil health systems from the host farmer. 

Workshop 2: Cropping Systems and Cover Crops

This two-day workshop focused on adapting cover crop management to different soil types and farm operations and highlighted using selected cover crop species or mixtures to address specific soil health constraints. Cover cropping effect on Nitrogen management was also presented. The classroom experience ended with a panel of farmers who have been implementing cover crops long-term. The on-farm component was at a local cash crop farm where strip trials of 35 plots were planted on three dates with different species and mixtures.

Workshop 3: Eliminating, Reducing, and Modifying Tillage for Soil Health

This two-day workshop was held in conjunction with the Empire Farm Days Soil Health Pavilion and focused on the benefits of reduced tillage, no-till systems and planting green. Presenters and farmer panels discussed nutrient management and pests and disease control in no-till systems, among other related topics. There was an in-field demonstration of tillage and manure spreading and an equipment field tour. Program participant Rod Porter planned and led a tour of cover crop demonstration plots.

Workshop 4: Adaptive Nutrient Management for Soil Health

This two-day workshop focused on how soil biology impacts nutrient management and what tools are available for adapting to variable nitrogen needs. Topics included biochar, nutrient management in pasture systems, tools for precision nitrogen management, management effects on nutrient loss to waterways and the atmosphere and a farmer panel discussion. The on-farm component was shared between two farms where they are collecting data on carbon cycling and identifying barriers and opportunities for building resilient food systems.

Workshop 5: Economics of Soil Health and Communicating with Farmers

This workshop was a one-day, in-person meeting with presentations on partial budgeting, quantifying management changes and decision-making tools available to use with farmers. In the afternoon, there was a facilitated interactive group activity on how to communicate effectively with farmers for encouraging adoption of soil health management systems.

Practical Soil Health Specialists

Central New York
Western New York
Long Island
Eastern New York

Program development for the Practical Soil Health Specialist training is guided by a steering committee comprised of representatives from American Farmland Trust, Cornell University, Cooperative Extension, Cornell Small Farms Program, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, New York State Ag and Markets and representatives from the agribusiness community. 

This program is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under sub-award number ENE18-153-32231, and with support from the members of American Farmland Trust. 

Lorie Ames

Read more about the experience of Lorie Ames, who took part in the Practical Soil Health Specialist Training Program.

Read More