Soil Health Stewards Program - American Farmland Trust

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Soil Health Stewards Program:
Promoting Soil Health on Protected Agricultural Lands

Program Overview

Additional Information

Funding for this program is generously provided by USDA-NRCS. For more information, read the program summary.

Healthy soils are the foundation of productive farmland and farm viability. Healthy soils can improve both on-farm productivity and environmental health by preventing the loss of soil and nutrients to our waterways, protecting water quality and water availability, and restoring soil biology and function. They are also critical to enabling farms and ranches to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and be more resilient to increasingly intense and erratic weather conditions.

AFT’s Soil Health Stewards Program is an ambitious national effort to engage and support agricultural land protection practitioners in promoting soil health practices with the farmers, ranchers and others who own and manage permanently protected agricultural land – and on the agricultural land their agency or organization itself owns.

The program’s focus is on the more than 6 million acres of permanently protected farms and ranches across the United States, recognizing the lasting impact that soil health improvements on this land will provide. The program seeks to serve the needs of land trusts and public Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs, both those already engaged in this work and those just starting out, to enable them to grow their efforts to support and incentivize producers and landowners of protected land to address soil health.

Beginning in 2021, AFT will provide unique learning opportunities and support for staff of land conservation organizations and public PACE programs from across the nation. Participants will be offered an opportunity to learn about the economic and environmental benefits of soil health practices and the science behind them while building skills to support farmers, ranchers, and landowners in adopting these practices.

Grant Guidelines for Entities in the Midwest+ Region

Grant Application

This application process is by invitation only. Grant applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on Friday, July 1, 2022

PURPOSE AND OVERVIEW

Land trusts and public Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs steward over 6 million acres of permanently protected agricultural land and continue to work with landowners to put more productive land under easement. Soil health improvements on this permanently protected land will have a lasting impact.  Accordingly, AFT’s Soil Health Stewards program seeks to support land trusts and public PACE programs, both those already engaged in this work and those just starting out, in growing their efforts to engage and encourage producers and landowners of protected land to address soil health.

Beginning in the fall of 2021, and focusing on the Northeast region, AFT began to provide unique learning opportunities and support for staff of land conservation organizations and public PACE programs from across the nation. In the spring of 2022, AFT brought the Soil Health Stewards program to the Southeast region. In October 2022, the training moves to the Midwest region.

Participants in AFT’s comprehensive training will learn about the economic and environmental benefits of soil health practices and the science behind them while building skills to support farmers, ranchers, and landowners in adopting these practices.

Participants who complete this training will be able to:

  • Communicate effectively about primary benefits of healthy soil and types of conservation practices that enhance soil health.
  • Understand basic challenges involved in soil health practice implementation.
  • Connect interested producers with technical advisors, cost-share programs, and other resources to help them successfully use soil health practices.
  • Understand options and alternatives for addressing and incentivizing specific soil health practices through agricultural conservation easements and other instruments.

AWARD AMOUNT & ELIGIBLE APPLICANTS

In 2022, AFT invites applications from land trusts and public PACE programs (state or local) from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin that hold easements on land protected through USDA’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). Entities must be interested in working with landowners and producers on protected land to increase awareness and adoption of soil health practices. Twenty-five entities will each receive $10,000 to enable two staff to attend a three-day virtual training and to develop programing to engage landowners and producers around soil health.

In addition to the training and $10,000 grant, participating entities will receive an additional year of technical assistance from AFT for their outreach efforts.  Support will include periodic networking calls and individualized assistance to partners.

REQUIREMENTS FOR ENTITY PARTICIPATION

  • Dedicate up to two staff to attend a virtual Soil Health Stewards training on October 11, 12, 13, & 14. Staff must attend the entire training and participate in all activities and discussions.
  • Develop a Soil Health Stewards Action Plan describing actions the agency or organization will take to promote soil health with landowners and farmers, including those who own or manage land on which the organization or agency holds an easement. (Time will be set aside during the training for initial plan development. A final version of the plan will be due by November 30, 2022).
  • Participate in project evaluation by September 2023. The evaluation will include a required pre- and post- training survey, an impact assessment and an optional interview with AFT program staff and consultants.

TIMELINE

  • Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EST) on July 1, 2022.
  • Letters of awards for accepted applications will be granted by August 15, 2022.
  • Soil Health Stewards training will take place virtually on October 11-14, 2022.

DISBURSEMENT OF FUNDS

  • $3,000 sent prior to virtual training (October 11, 2022).
  • $3,000 sent once Soil Health Stewards Action Plan is submitted (November 30, 2022).
  • $4,000 sent upon completion of evaluation (September 30, 2023).

SPECIAL NOTES

  • Funding is contingent on the awardee completing a Grant Award Form and submitting it within 14 days after receiving letter of award.
  • A W9 is required to receive awarded funds and must be submitted along with the Grant Award Form
  • Entities are asked to join the National Agricultural Land Network either as an organization or as an individual.
  • If the awardee does not provide required documents within 14 days of notification of award, AFT may choose to award funds to another applicant.
  • This is a competitive application process. Priority will be given to applicants on the basis of both number of agricultural conservation easements held and demonstrated interest in advancing soil health as expressed in the application narrative.

HOW TO APPLY

To apply, submit a completed Soil Health Stewards Program Application electronically through this link: https://aftgrantapplication.powerappsportals.com/soil-health/

QUESTIONS

Contact Beth Fraser, National Agricultural Land Network Manager, at bfraser@farmland.org or 413-240-4282

Soil Health Stewards in the Southeast Region, April 2022

Soil Health Stewards Program by Region

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the Soil Health Stewards program began its rotation around the country following the NRCS regions.

The Soil Health Stewards program continued in the NRCS’ Southeast region by engaging entities from Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. After being awarded grants, fourteen entities sent staff to attend four days of training and each developed a Soil Health Stewards Action Plan to use in their work. Below is a list of those entities and a sample of testimony from participants.

Awarded Entities:
Georgia
Athens Land Trust
Carroll County
Georgia-Alabama Land Trust
Kentucky
Fayette County RLMB, Inc.
Kentucky PACE Program
North Carolina
Catawba Lands Conservancy
Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina
Mainspring Conservation Trust, Inc.
Triangle Land Conservancy
NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
South Carolina
Beaufort County Open Land Trust
Oconee Soil and Water Conservation District
Tennessee
Land Trust for Tennessee
Virginia
Piedmont Environmental Council

Participant thoughts:

  • “I thought the format & style the information was presented was easy to follow & very informative.”
  • “Good use of “common language” we can all use and educate landowners concerning conservation”
  • “All good! thanks for keeping the topics diversified- good mix so nothing drags on!”
  • “I really enjoyed the Resource assessment tools presentation. It sort of took the concepts we learned on day one and provided practical ways to apply them.”
  • “Overall – great job. Still loved the snacks!”

Soil Health Stewards in the Northeast Region, September 2021

Soil Health Stewards Program by Region

Beginning in the fall of 2021, the Soil Health Stewards program began its rotation around the country following the NRCS regions.

The Soil Health Stewards program kicked of in the NRCS’ Northeast region by engaging entities from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. After being awarded grants, seventeen entities sent staff to attend three days of training and each developed a Soil Health Stewards Action Plan to use in their work. Below is a list of those entities and a sample of testimony from participants.

Awarded Entities:
Cardinal Land Conservancy (OH)
Cecil Land Trust (MD)
Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board (PA)
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (MD)
Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District (OH)
Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board (PA)
Lancaster Farmland Trust (PA)
Land Conservancy of Adams County (PA)
Lower Shore Land Trust (MD)
Madison SWCD (OH)
Maryland Department of Agriculture – Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MD)
Northampton County Farmland Preservation (PA)
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Bureau of Farmland Preservation (PA)
Tecumseh Land Trust (OH)
Three Valley Conservation Trust (OH)
Westmoreland County Agricultural Land Preservation (PA)
York County Agricultural Land Preservation Board (PA)

Participant thoughts:

  • “I felt the way each session/discussion was presented met us where we were at which was helpful. Didn’t assume we were experts, but also weren’t born yesterday. Asking about our experiences and hearing others experiences on the topic was helpful.”
  • “You have generated a high level of energy and excitement in this office with the training!”
  • “I will admit I was initially skeptical of this training really being able to fill 2 1/2 days’ worth of time, but you really did a great job. Great speakers and great conversation.  I learned a lot, and thought I knew quite a bit about soil health to begin with.”
  • “Overall, a very well thought out and implemented 3 days. So much information, now it’s time to digest and put the new info to good use.”
  • “Though I am not a fan of virtual training…You all did a great job and made 2 1/2 days of virtual sessions very enjoyable and informative.”
  • “All of your AFT staff have been great at facilitating and keeping the conversation moving and that has made a great difference and made it just as valuable as being in person!”
  • “Thank you for this great mix of content. It’s felt like a comprehensive, meaningful training!”
  • “I think it was very valuable information shared and truly increased my understanding as well as changed my perspective”
  • “The training truly was excellent, and the facilitators were outstanding. I learned far more than I imagined and am eager to develop and implement our soil health plan.”

National Agricultural Land Network

The Soil Health Stewards Program is administered through American Farmland Trust's National Agricultural Land Network. The NALN works to grow the capacity and momentum needed to elevate the cause of agricultural land retention and protection across America. Find more information and a membership form by clicking the link below.

More About the Network