Soil Health

Frequently Asked Questions about Biochar Applied to Soil

This FAQ is a reference guide for biochar users, producers and stakeholders. It answers common questions about biochar applications to soil from experts representing United States Department of Agriculture, Cornell University, American Farmland Trust and United States Biochar Initiative. Topics include an introduction to biochar, biochar field applications, biochar and compost, changes to soil, carbon credits, and biochar testing.

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ISAP’s Introduction to Soil Health Practices

The Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership’s recent publication, “An Introduction to Soil Health Practices,” clearly communicates the role of soil health practices in addressing agronomic challenges and resource concerns. Co-author Torey Colburn, Conservation Agronomist with American Farmland Trust, and Helen VanBeck, Program Manager with American Farmland Trust provide an overview of the practical agronomic information included in the guidebook, including how practices like cover crops and no-till, when managed correctly, can build soil health in the field, suppress weed pressure, and limit nutrient loss. Torey and Helen are also joined by two farmers whose stories are shared in the guidebook as real-world examples of how farmers are finding success with these practices.

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Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) Developed by Cornell Soil Health Lab

The Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health, commonly known as the Cornell Soil Health Test (CASH), is designed for farmers, gardeners, agricultural service providers, landscape managers and researchers who want to go beyond simply testing the nutrient levels of their soils. The Cornell lab was the first to offer a commercial soil health test that provides standardized information on important soil biological and physical constraints in addition to standard nutrient analyses.

Find details of the CASH assessment’s indicators and management strategies for improving soil health in the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health Training Manual, available free online. The lab also offers fact sheets about our lab’s specific tests and procedures.

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State Conservation Program Dashboard

The State Conservation Program Dashboard (the “dashboard”) is an interactive database of state-level programs that advance on-farm conservation and expand the implementation of practices that improve soil health. It provides a snapshot of state efforts to help raise awareness about effective approaches, inform state and federal policy action, and encourage more agricultural land conservation.

How to Use the Dashboard

The dashboard includes information about three state approaches – On-Farm Conservation, Technical Assistance Capacity, and Research and Demonstration – that can be accessed using the color-coded buttons. 

Each section highlights program mechanics and activities, enabling comparison across states. Individual programs are shown in rows. The tabs along the top of each table describe program features, such as administration, eligibility, inclusion and access, financial assistance, outcomes, and more. Columns within each tab highlight additional program information that can be filtered and sorted. For descriptions of each column heading, refer to the State Conservation Program Dashboard Index.

Finally, clicking on a row in the table generates a secondary table at the bottom of the dashboard that displays more customized details related to that program.  

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Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy & Agricultural Conservation Practices

This 1-pager created by Illinois Extension, gives a brief overview of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (INLRS), highlights nutrient loss in Illinois, impacts of nutrient loss, and conservation practices that can address in-field and edge of field nutrient loss.

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Digging Deeper: Cover Crop Mixes

Cover crop mixes are a great tool that can be used to address a wide range of field concerns and production goals. This resource is meant to guide your design of a cover crop mix that is applicable to your production environment, highlight various considerations of mix designs, and support your development of an adaptive strategy to successfully use multispecies cover crops on your farm.

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