The Obama Administration Announces New Steps to Advance Soil Sustainability

Published on: December 5, 2016

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing new steps to work towards the long-term health and sustainable use of one of America’s most important natural resources: its soil. OSTP is also releasing today a Federal framework for soil science, developed in collaboration with more than a dozen Federal agencies, with input from approximately 80 stakeholders from academia, industry, non-profit organizations, and the agricultural community.

Soil is essential to human life. Not only is it vital for providing most of the world’s food, but it also plays a critical role in ensuring water quality and availability; supports a vast array of non-food products and benefits, including mitigation of climate change; and sustains the biodiversity needed for ecological resilience. These roles make soil essential to modern life. Thus, it is imperative that everyone—city dwellers, farmers and ranchers, land owners, and rural citizens alike—take responsibility for caring for and investing in our soils. Given their importance, soil must be protected from degradation, as the alternative is the loss of an array of important ecosystem services.

The new actions being announced today aim to advance scientific understanding of soils so that land managers and farmers are better able to care for them and maintain their ability to support food security, climate mitigation, ecosystem services, and public health. These actions focus on three key areas:

  1. Promoting interdisciplinary research and education, to answer key questions on rates of soil genesis and erosion, the role of soils in bioenergy production, the development of advanced soil sensors, and research to better understand non-agricultural soils.
  2. Advancing computational tools and modeling, to improve analytical capacity and develop a robust predictive framework in studying soil properties, including pursuing a more sophisticated understanding of soil-carbon fluxes and the potential for soil-carbon sequestration.
  3. Expanding sustainable agricultural practices, to ensure farmers and ranchers have the information and tools they need to protect and enhance agricultural soils and ensure global soils can continue to provide food security and climate benefits for future generations.

The projects in this Fact Sheet build on decades of experience, research, and conservation efforts of farmers, ranchers, and land owners, along with States and the Federal Government. Since the 1930s, when the onset of the Dust Bowl led to the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, Federal agencies have invested tens of billions of dollars in soil conservation and research initiatives. During this Administration, land managers have increased the number of acres of farmland enrolled in the Department of Agriculture’s conservation programs by nearly 200 million acres. Federal soil-science efforts are not limited to agricultural soils—across the Federal research enterprise, more than a dozen agencies work to protect soils in rangelands, cities, forests, coasts, and other areas—often working hand-in-hand with citizens, universities, local organizations, and other private-sector partners.

New Steps Being Taken by the Administration Today

To support the coordination of future government-wide science and technology efforts to protect soils, the National Science and Technology Council’s Soil Science Interagency Working Group (SSIWG) is releasing today “The State and Future of U.S. Soils,” a Framework for a Federal Strategic Plan for Soil Science, which is the result of a collaborative effort from more than 15 Federal agencies. In developing the Framework, SSIWG considered input from stakeholders from academia, industry, non-profit organizations, and the agricultural community who attended an OSTP workshop on soils in August 2016. The Framework is available for public comment until January 10, 2017. SSIWG intends to use it to inform the future development of a comprehensive Federal Strategic Plan for Soil Science.

The Framework sets forth the most important threats to U.S. soils and potential Federal research priorities. It identifies three overarching “Challenge and Opportunity” categories: (1) land use and land cover change; (2) unsustainable land management practices, and (3) climate and environmental change. It also lists potential priorities for future Federal science and technology efforts. In addition, several Federal agencies are supporting the development of the Strategic Plan by expanding their research and conservation initiatives: