SNAPP TEAM:Managing Soil Organic Carbon
Can healthy soil promote healthy ecosystems in rangelands and croplands?

Soil organic matter is central to soil health in agriculture because it influences several important outcomes such as, crop yield, carbon storage, and nutrient retention, all of which are closely related to human and environmental well-being. The benefits of built up soil organic matter on other working lands, like rangelands, are less quantified. There is generally little quantitative evidence supporting specific soil organic matter target levels that are associated with positive outcomes and avoid negative environmental consequences.


OUR APPROACH: The group aims to advance soil organic matter science to develop specific targets for management—including spatial prioritization—that is associated with positive agronomic outcomes and environmental benefits in both row-crop and rangeland systems. The group is focused on two case studies: rangelands in California and row-crop agriculture in the U.S. midwest.

Team Status: COMPLETED
Team Critical Challenges: Climate Resilience, Food and Freshwater

Relationship Between Soil Carbon, Crop Productivity, and Resilience to Drought

With a focus on row crops in the US Midwest and grazing lands in California, the team established that there is a solid relationship between soil carbon, crop productivity, and crop resilience to drought. Soil management has a large impact on a suite of environmental and agronomic outcomes due to these interconnected relationships.

Specific Recommendations

Soil management impacts the quality of soil for food production and environmental outcomes like water quality, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is crucial to develop evidence-based indicators for soil management to meet both agronomic and environmental goals. The team developed tools that refine our ability to make specific recommendations since general recommendations lack the specific targets necessary to prioritize where to build soil organic matter and how much.

AgEvidence database

This tool is a site that examines 224 studies conducted in the US Midwest over 47 years and assesses the benefits of common farming practices. It is both a motivational communications device to get partners excited about the impact of soil management, as well as a tool to quantify relationships between agricultural practices and agronomic performance indicators. 


“We’ve generated new understanding that building soil carbon is important for agriculture to adapt to climate change. Our AgEvidence tool gives everyone, from farmers to CEOs, access to the science on conservation agriculture in the US Corn Belt.”

– Stephen Wood, Project Leader

Key Products
Global analysis of the relationship between soil organic matter and crop yields

As part of a larger global effort to better understand the relationship between soil organic matter and crop yields, the team analyzed datasets from 29 countries.

Soil Carbon Science for Policy and Practice

This study argues that there is scientific consensus on the need to rebuild soil organic carbon for sustainable land stewardship.  Knowledge in soil carbon restoration can benefit agriculture with well-informed policy and practice to protect and restore soils.

Improving scientific impact: How to practice science that influences environmental policy and management

The paper outlines a set of practical steps for scientists who want to improve the impact their research has on decision-making. These guidelines can increase the likelihood that specific evidence will be used in environmental decision-making


Explore 16,000+ data points visualizing the impact of conservation agriculture in the United States Corn Belt. Users can use the tool to advocate for and implement practices that best fit their goals, or undertake new research where data are sparse.

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Stephen Wood
The Nature Conservancy
Deborah Bossio
The Nature Conservancy
Mark Bradford
Yale University
Chelsea Carey
Point Blue
Larry Clemens
The Nature Conservancy
Anne Dietz
Soil Health Partnership
Joe Fargione
The Nature Conservancy
Eli Fenichel
Yale University
Jon Fisher
The Nature Conservancy
Emma Fuller
Sasha Gennet
The Nature Conservancy
Kelly Gravuer
The Nature Conservancy; Arizona State University
Daniel Kane
Yale University
Rodd Kelsey
The Nature Conservancy
Johannes Lehman
Cornell University
Shefali Mehta
Soil Health Partnership
Emily Oldfield
Yale University
Elsa Ordway
Stanford University
Cheryl Palm
University of Florida
Leslie Roche
University of California, Davis
Joe Rudek
Environmental Defense Fund
Jonathan Sanderman
Woods Hole Research Center
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