Soil Health Focus: The Washington Soil Health Initiative – How it started


Soil health is often defined as the ability of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem. When the underlying functionality of soil is supported within the agroecosystem it often results in many benefits on and off-farm. As awareness of the value of soil health has been growing in Washington and beyond, it has brought to the forefront limitations within existing soils knowledge and support structures. With the Washington Soil Health Initiative (WaSHI), Washington State is at the leading edge of doing the work to address needs and gaps surrounding soil health across the diverse agroecosystems in the state.

As someone interested in connecting dryland growers with relevant topics all about soil health, I have had some questions come up as the WaSHI has been gaining momentum:

What is the Soil Health Initiative? Where is it currently at in implementation? And how will it benefit soil health in our dryland wheat-based systems?

It was my privilege to interview three of the professionals taking the lead and working hand in hand and across organizations to develop and implement the three primary aspects of the WaSHI:

  • WSU WaSHI Lead – Chris Benedict
  • WSDA Soil Health Initiative Soil Scientist – Dr. Dani Gelardi
  • Alison Halpern, the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) Scientific Policy Advisor

The WaSHI has come together in three collaborative, yet distinct, phases. With the first being inception of the initiative and development of the roadmap.

The interest in launching the Washington Soil Health Initiative began in 2018 when Governor Inslee directly asked CSANR Director Chad Kruger about soil health in Washington, a story that was captured in first-person in a recent Wheat Beat podcast with Director Kruger titled, The Soil Health Initiative Is Born. As the initiative gained momentum, the first milestone, was to create a roadmap of soil health needs and gaps across the seven predominant agroecosystems in Washington. Another Wheat Beat podcast with Chris Benedict titled, “The Soil Health Roadmap” describes highlights of the road mapping process and of the document. The Roadmap document itself is very insightful and the dryland cropping system subsection identified soil erosion and acidification as the most pressing issues in the wheat-based cropping system of Eastern Washington. The roadmap work is expected to continue evolving and has served as a foundation for implementing the subsequent phases of the WaSHI.

The roadmap is just the beginning of the story. Keep following along for the upcoming articles on where that roadmap has gotten so far with the WaSHI and where it is going from there!

In the meantime, the WaSHI (and WSU Farmers Network) is all about increasing awareness and education surrounding soil health across Washington. Last year kicked off the Washington SoilCon – a statewide event held in February, with the aim of bringing anyone who is interested, high-impact soil health content.

If you are eager to learn all you can about Soil Health – don’t miss the free, virtual event WASoilCon from 8 am- 12pm Feb 22 and 23. The event will include:

  • Keynote speaker Dr. John Reganold- discussing ‘Global Land Degradation: problems and solutions’
  • Regional experts discussing soil health in the PNW, including Indigenous Insights
  • A roundtable of scientists specializing in the field of soil microbial ecology discussing “What we can expect from soil biology?”
  • Lighting talks with updates on the latest work being done on soil health around Washington
  • A Producer Perspectives Panel where soil-health focused growers from across the state discuss their views and experience with soil health on the farm

Learn more and sign up now on the Washington SoilCon website – don’t wait and risk missing this amazing soil health content roundup!SoilCon Event Flyer.Washington Soil Health Initiative Logo.