Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

USDA Helps Landowners Manage for Soil Health, Buffer Drought Effects

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.

Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.

“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.

The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth.

“The amount of clay content is determined by glacier content left behind and cannot be changed, but the percent of organic matter in topsoil can be increased,” Miller said.

One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil can hold about 27,000 gallons of water per acre. Increasing organic matter increases the holding capacity for water making your land more resilient to extreme weather.

Even with drought in recent years, landowners benefited from improved soil health.

“There were two farms separated by a road that had the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. While one farm thrived through extreme weather, the other one lost corn plants, soil and water. The variable here was the management of the land,” Miller said.

Landowners are the managers of soil, so it’s important to use practices that help protect and improve your soil, he added.

NRCS identified four principles that help improve soil health:
1. Keep soil covered as much as possible.
2. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil.
3. Keep living roots in the soil as long as possible.
4. Disturb the soil as little as possible.

Managing for soil health can help increase productivity and profits, decrease inputs and improve sustainability for farms and ranches.

“We need soil to be productive not just this year, but five years from now, 20 years from now, 60 years from now, and that starts with soil health,” Miller said.

NRCS has more information on drought resources and soil health. Also, complete information on drought and disaster resources is available on the USDA website.

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. This farm has erosion issues which conservation practices could address. NRCS photo.

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. This farm has erosion issues which conservation practices could address. NRCS photo.

3 Responses to “USDA Helps Landowners Manage for Soil Health, Buffer Drought Effects”

  1. Laurie Fritsch says:

    Excellent! The information that you shared about the percentage of organic matter in topsoil was very interesting.

  2. Royal Rife says:

    re: soil health
    6 weeks ago I got a few pickup loads of wood chips from a spot where road crews leave them for the public to use in gardens, as mulch etc. It is great holding moisture, keeping weeds down and improving the soil (and free). A few weeks ago we planted our seeds and small plants for our vegetable garden. Not one seed sprouted, the few tomato plants still standing are zombies and everything else is shriveling and dying. Walnut is the only tree I am aware of that has a substance bad for other plants. This chips are not walnut. This wood has obviously been treated with glyphosates (Roundup) or some other poison. Similar horror stories come from people who got similarly contaminated horse manure where the toxins passed through the horses’ digestive systems. This is truly tragic as the use of these toxins is increasing. Has anyone checked the effects of these substances on the multitudes of living organisms that are essential to healthy soils?

  3. John says:

    Glyphosate is a contact only herbicide, that’s a misconception from the get go. Any wood chips are going to contain natural tannins that suppress growth of other plant species causing growth issues, not to mention you are completely going over kill with the Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio. Maybe instead of attempting to scare folks you could actually try to use alittle common sense before posting your obviously anti-herbicide propoganda.

Leave a Reply