Wolfe’s Neck Center in Freeport is leading an initiative promoting cleaner soil. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

FREEPORT — With the help of $10 million in grants, Wolfe’s Neck Center is leading a worldwide initiative to improve soil and slow climate change.

Open Technology Ecosystem for Agriculture Management, or OpenTEAM, is a collaborative network that includes Wolfe’s Neck, The Soil Health Partnership, General Mills, Purdue University Open Technology and Systems Center, and Michigan State University Global Change Learning Lab, among others.

“One of the key things is that in order to solve climate change, there needs to be an all-of-the-above strategy,” David Herring, Wolfe’s Neck executive director, said Aug. 1. “Leading thinkers and studies show that two of the primary items with this strategy are reducing overall emissions, (done by) transitioning from fossil fuels to electric vehicles and moving toward solar energy.”

Wolfe’s Neck is a Burnett Road nonprofit that runs a demonstration farm, campground, wooded trails and historic buildings. The center works with community organizations to improve soil health through research and regenerative farming.

The network, comprised of what Herring calls a “dream team” of researchers, technology companies, food businesses and farmers, hopes to build a software platform that will allow farmers to access and share knowledge.

Funding for the project, which is being done in phases, includes $5 million from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, $200,000 from The Stonyfield Foundation, $200,000 in in-kind contributions, and a grant from Stonyfield Organic, according to a press release.

“Optimizing soil management practices not only improves soil health, but also protects the environment,” Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, said in the press release. “At scale, OpenTEAM can improve soil management practices for farmers around the globe and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The idea for the network came in 2017, when Wolfe’s Neck Center helped host a soils conference in Florida, where there was discussion about the potential of advancing the tools that farmers had been using.

“There was already a lot happening,” Herring said. “But there are challenges that we’re facing as a society that requires a multi-sector collaboration. We created this because there is a lot of work happening right now as part of the regenerative agriculture movement.”

According to Herring, changing land-management practices around the world to nurture healthier soil would reduce the use of atmospheric carbon, which in turn will stop carbon emissions, preventing the problem from growing further.

“Over half of our emissions come from agriculture, so in order to hit our target, we know we need to work with the farms who provide our ingredients and help them reduce their emissions and sequester more carbon,” Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Organics, said in the press release. “At scale, OpenTEAM can improve soil management practices for farmers around the glove and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The hope, according to the press release, is that by 2024, millions of acres of farmland will be able to receive quantitative feedback through OpenTEAM.

“Over the last 50 years or so, farming practices that have been put in place across the country and around the world have been very different from farming practices that have been practiced by humans for thousands of years,” Herring said. “Today’s farming practices today are less reliant on healthy soil and more on inputs being fertilizers and herbicides.”

Herring said that because of this, soil health has seen a decline, which has been a contributing factor to climate change.

“Farming in a way that builds healthy soil is a critical component to solving climate change,” he said. “Agriculture must be talked about as part of the solution.”

Herring said that the new network is part of a five-year initiative. The first half is focusing on building the collaborative and continuing to develop the software; the second half will be deploying the system to farms across the world.

“We are democratizing access to this information,” Herring said. “Our goal is to make it an inexpensive and easy way to have access to this information.”


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