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Colorado Soil Health Program

Soil Health Program Background

The Colorado Soil Health Program supports farmers and ranchers to improve their soil quality. CDA partners with conservation districts and local eligible entities to provide financial and technical assistance to producers. Farmers can enroll at any stage of their soil health journey, and get support to experiment with healthy soil practices on a portion of their operation.

From 2021-2023, CDA enrolled more than 200 farmers and ranchers in the Colorado Soil Health Program, leading to new soil health practices on 11,707 acres. 

To enroll in the Colorado Soil Health Program, please contact your local conservation district, one of the eligible entities listed below, or contact CSHP

Soil Health Program Enrollment

The Colorado Soil Health program is focused on the five principles of soil health:

  • Soil armor; 
  • Minimizing soil disturbance; 
  • Plant diversity; 
  • Continual live plant/root; and
  • Livestock integration

The program encourages producers to evaluate the specific context of their operation and field, decide what resources or practices they want to focus on, and then provides up to $5000/year matching funds to implement the farmer’s chosen practices. Participants gain familiarity and expertise with new practices and an increased understanding of the environmental and economic outcomes associated with them.

The Colorado Soil Health Program (CSHP) also provides equipment grants, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, field day support, and funds CSU Extension and CSU Ag Experiment Station staff to provide additional technical support. Participants also do a STAR Field Evaluation, receive two soil tests, and a soil moisture monitoring system for their enrolled field.

CSHP has received generous funding through Colorado state stimulus funds, NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, USDA Climate Smart Commodities Grant,  Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), the Wallace Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. CDA appreciates all our partner’s support. 



Why Soil Health?

The fundamental basis of the Colorado Soil Health Program is two fold: 1) increase soil organic matter (SOM) and 2) improve soil aggregate stability. Organic matter comes from dead plant and animal material that, over time, soaks into the soil and provides food for millions of tiny organisms that make the soil hold more water and helps plant roots absorb minerals and nutrition from the soil. The two work off each other and happen when soil disturbance is significantly reduced. A 1% increase in SOM can increase the soil's ability to hold water. For each 1% increase in soil organic matter the available water holding capacity in the soil increases by 3.7%. Having stable soil aggregates ("clods" that stick together) happens when the soil structure is good (not destroyed by tillage) and helps the soil withstand wind and rain so it is less susceptible to erosion AND infiltrates water into the soil instead of letting it run off. Reducing water runoff improves water quality because it prevents nutrients from moving out of the soil in the water.

Providing voluntary opportunities for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers to try different practices to improve their soils will build resilience in the face of increasing water scarcity. The past two decades in the American West have been the driest in several centuries, and aridity and higher temperatures are expected to increase in the future. Market uncertainty will likely continue and food production will face challenges. Helping Colorado farmers and ranchers improve the health of their soil is of utmost importance.

Colorado has a robust legacy of soil conservation and soil stewardship. Healthy soils are drought resilient because they retains more water and are less prone to erosion. Through soil health practices that improve nutrient cycling, farmers can increase the productivity of land while also reducing labor and input costs. Colorado’s producers are long-time advocates of soil health. Nonetheless, barriers remain to adopting soil health practices. The Soil Health Program reduces impediments to healthy soil through a voluntary and incentive-based framework. 

Soil Health Program Local Partners

Watch Us Grow! The map below shows conservation district and grower group participation in the Colorado Soil Health program.

Color coded map of program participants in the State of Colorado.