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Conference on Connections between Soil Health and Human Health Results in 10 Research Priorities

Silver Spring, MD -- Almost 200 scientists and organization leaders engaged with 41 researchers and subject matter experts during a two-day Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health, October 16 – 17, 2018.  Topic-rich briefings were led by experts in soil health, microbiome research, nutrition, and public health, where participants discussed the state of the science, identified gaps, proposed research priorities, and discussed policy and funding related opportunities, which will be provided in a future report.

The Conference resulted in 10 Recommended Research Priorities:

  • Understand the fundamental microbiome structures and functions related to land management, soil health, and human health. Connect existing research on the human microbiome to the soil microbiome.
  • Integrate the vast amount of existing data into a summary review of soil health and human health that links gaps, knowns, unknowns, and immediate actions. Integrate stakeholders, facilitate transdisciplinary knowledge, and compile short bullets and references to communicate those results to many diverse stakeholders, including students and Extension personnel
  • Understand soil health and regenerative systems around the world and their impacts on the environment and the global food system. Validate methods for soil health measurement across soils and regions. Involve farmers in research efforts. Use Extension and Farm Bill programs to take action.
  • Frame future research questions with the following thought in mind: If farmers and health care providers are hired to deliver soil health and/or human health outcomes associated with a research question, how might that affect the implementation and adoption of the research findings?
  • Capitalize on long-term experiment stations by using them to engage the medical community and industry in tracking bioavailability of nutrients and toxins from soil to plants to humans and microbes. This includes studying farm laborers and consumers relative to food consumed and chemical exposures.
  • Determine how the known suite of soil health practices can impact human wellness, economics, and the environment. Determine the mechanism linking soil management with the nutritional content of the food produced. 
  • Develop a network of permanent research sites in different regions (at least three: East, Midwest, and West) that allows comparison of conventional, organic, and regenerative agricultural production systems, along with urban areas and native habitats (e.g., forests) for their nutrient uptake and other properties. Such a network would attract other researchers bringing additional tools, analyses, and expertise to the effort, such as food companies, the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Create a center to quantify the positive and negative impacts of increasing soil organic matter and associated management systems across the entire agricultural value chain. With a community of diverse researchers contributing quantitative data to value chain analysis, determine how to maximize benefits and minimize adverse impacts on human health through agricultural management practices.
  • Characterize human-soil interactions for exposure analyses, health impacts, and identify avenues for intervention. Communicate results with scientific, grower and technical stakeholders at various scales and locations.
  • Identify specific partners to increase and optimize bioavailability in soil health agricultural management systems to decrease contamination and promote community well-being.


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