Soil Health

Healthy soil is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture here in Iowa. Think of dirt as the physical and chemical properties and add the biology to get soil.

Soil health has been defined as the "the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, promote the quality of air and water environments, and maintain plant, animal, and human health." (Pankhurst et al., 1997)

Managing for soil health allows farm operators to improve the natural capacity of the land to reduce soil erosion, maximize water infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, save money on inputs, and ultimately improve the resiliency of our working lands.

As Secretary of Agriculture, John Will…

  • Make Soil Health a State priority and work collaboratively with landowners, farm operators, and soil health experts to accelerate healthy soils using team-based strategies and learning from successful programs

  • Seek equity for ALL farm operators and ag landowners in the carbon markets regarding soil health practices: “It shouldn’t be the last ones to the party are the only ones that get paid!”

  • Work with leading Universities, carbon market makers, legislators, and other stakeholders to establish sensible soil health metrics for monitoring and managing to soil health standards and attracting carbon capital that efficiently and effectively supports soil health and water quality goals.


Iowa is a leading producer of biofuels which are critical to managing climate change as we transition to an electric future. The industry delivers more than $5B annually to our economy. What’s the connection to our soils? The annual row crops which we use to produce biofuels are very hard on our soils. For example, for every pound of corn we use to produce ethanol, about two pounds of topsoil ends up in the river. This is not sustainable. We need to build resiliency into the system with new crop rotation strategies that include no till, reduced tillage, cover crops, small grains, grasses, perennials, even more livestock on the land which are important to soil health. This will require aligning the economic interests of farm operators with absentee landowners to drive forward and accelerate soil health goals with sustained practices. Absentee landowners like “Martha from Florida” now represent more than 60% of Iowa farmland ownership.

As Secretary of Agriculture, John Will…

  • Fight for Biofuels place in key transportation markets including aviation, marine and class 1 railroads

  • Identify new pathways to prosperity for the time when our Nation and the World moves beyond the internal combustion engine

  • Work with Industry to Expand our Ethanol Infrastructure to support new market development from algae-based animal feeds to greenhouse production of table foods for urban markets across the Midwest

New Markets

Soil health is closely linked with what we grow, how we grow it and the markets we serve. Because of the heavy emphasis on serving biofuels markets, Iowa’s tremendously productive agricultural system has become “unbalanced.” It’s too dependent on serving a few global markets that are leading to poor soil health, water quality impacts, and community decline because the diversity of what we used to grow and raise is largely gone. The way forward is to build on our biofuels legacy, but to diversify what we grow, raise and service with a renewed focus on higher value markets. This means taking a small percentage of our 23 million acres of corn and bean ground and providing new support, access to land and capital, to serve new markets. There are 3.1 million Iowans and 80 million people within a day’s drive of Iowa. We all want to eat healthy.

As Secretary of Agriculture, John Will…

  • Work to help diversify our rural and agricultural economies in ways that support soil health as we broaden what we grow, raise and service in response to changes around the world – severe weather, healthier diets, animal and insect pandemics and infestations

  • Work with urban and rural communities, the private sector, and state and federal partners to identify barriers to growth and key drivers that can help develop producers to serve these consumer markets

  • Vision, Engage and Build toward a Regenerative Agriculture Economy – Iowa should lead the World in Sustainability