The National Corn Growers Association has decided to terminate its Soil Health Partnership, a program that teamed up with farmers to collect data on soil conservation practices such as cover crops and reduced tillage.
After about seven years of operation, the NCGA-run program said it ran into a funding shortfall that forced its board last month to make the difficult decision, said Nathan Fields, NCGA vice president of production and sustainability.
Fields said grants from government programs and foundations dried up as on-farm soil conservation research became more prevalent. It became a challenge, he said, to demonstrate what was new about the SHP’s work, which includes labor-intensive and expensive soil testing.
“The cost of the type of research that we were doing was quite expensive, just high-interaction type of research,” Fields said. “And folks just really weren't willing to fund that type of research anymore.” At one time, he said the program had an annual budget well over $5 million.
SHP’s website says 200 farms in 16 states are currently participating in its data collection efforts. Fields said the goal when the program started was to add 20 farms a year. The 18 employees and two contractors will be let go at the end of the month.
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Fields said data will continue to be refined and shared. “We do consider the work that was done by SHP a success,” he said. “It exceeded our initial expectations with the number of farms and the number of growers involved, and the amount of data that we collected.”
As for the employees, “We've done our best to make sure that they can land on their feet,” Fields said. “The people have absolutely phenomenal training as agronomists through this whole program, so I would imagine that the agricultural community will be well served by their continued talent in other places.”
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