Policy Solutions

Soil & Nutrient Management

US Federal
Agriculture

Research and Development

Federal investment in research and development (R&D) supports economic growth, drives down costs for key technologies that can be used domestically and exported abroad, and promotes U.S. leadership on clean energy and climate. Investment in R&D for soil management is driven primarily by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Further R&D for soils comes from the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) national labs and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) ROOTS program.

Federal policymakers should increase investment and enact programmatic reforms to ensure a focus on advancing R&D for:

  • Soil carbon measurement technologies;
  • Next-generation nitrogen management in crop production;
  • High carbon sequestration crops, including enhanced root systems; and
  • Low-GHG fertilizer.

Validation and Early Deployment

Before we can deploy promising soil-management technologies at scale, we must demonstrate and validate their cost and performance in real-world conditions. Demonstration projects reduce the economic and institutional risks of new technologies, so the federal government should support existing efforts and, where needed, develop a robust portfolio of demonstration projects for soil-management and carbon sequestration best practices that can illustrate their benefits.

Rapid, Large Scale Deployment

Federal Crop Insurance Reform

The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) could be a powerful lever for improving soil management practices. Offering a discount on federal premiums in exchange for producer risk management strategies, such as conservation practices that reduce erosion, build soil carbon, and increase nitrogen-use efficiency, could increase soil carbon sequestration and GHG reduction significantly. Linking a performance-based benefits program to the adoption of risk-management strategies will require filling gaps in knowledge, technology, and data, as well as continuous program learning and improvement.

Reform Conservation Programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the largest provider of financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who seek to improve environmental outcomes on their land. These programs also provide important technical assistance to farmers and ranchers. Funds such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program have improved environmental outcomes, water quality, and soil health on agricultural lands. Funding conservation programs to achieve ongoing performance improvement linked to climate benefits would meet these important goals and strengthen existing land conservation policy. Eligibility could also be expanded to more types of land and a wider swath of participants.

Strengthen Soil Erosion Standards

Conservation compliance has two parts: soil conservation and wetlands protection. While conservation compliance has been highly successful in reducing soil erosion, croplands still lose over a billion tons of topsoil every year. Strengthening the soil erosion standard, applying soil erosion reduction requirements to all soils (not just Highly-Erodible Land (HEL)), and more robustly enforcing the adoption of conservation-compliance policies could reduce erosion and improve soil health.