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Posts tagged: cover crops

A Firsthand Account: California Farmers Working to Weather Drought

Dairyman Bob Giacomini (center) discusses his dairy operations and the critical need for more rainfall to Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and other participants.

Dairyman Bob Giacomini (center) discusses his dairy operations and the critical need for more rainfall to Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and other participants.

On a recent trip to California, I had the pleasure meeting several farm families who are impacted by the state’s worsening drought. Both stops gave me a first-hand view of the challenges these farmers face. We discussed how USDA can further help them with available resources. While the discussion centered on concerns over water supply, I was heartened to see that the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) recommended conservation practices have helped them better prepare for the state’s historic water shortage.

During the first stop, I visited with a distinguished dairyman and conservationist in Marin County, Bob Giacomini, and his four daughters, who operate the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Driving over the hill towards Bob’s milking complex, I could see the pastures had little, if any, grass. In talking to Bob, he said that typically the grass would be at least two feet tall by now. He has real concerns about having enough forage for his cows. I also spoke with Paul Bianchi, who had joined us.  Paul owns a dairy operation in neighboring Sonoma County and, like Bob, is very concerned about his ability to feed his cows. Both discussed the real possibility that they may have to sell some of their herd. Read more »

Digging Deeper: New Video Series Unlocks the Secrets of Soil Health

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

For years, researcher and filmmaker Buz Kloot suspected something remarkable was happening under our feet.

His suspicion was based on interviews he conducted with farmers from various parts of the country – all of whom reported significant production and environmental benefits by simply improving the health of their soil.

“These farmers reported more consistent yields, lower input costs and higher net income,” said Kloot, a University of South Carolina research associate professor. “They weren’t sneaking out at night to fertilize and irrigate. I had to believe what I saw. And with each visit, these ‘anomalies’ amassed.” Read more »

Christmas Tree Grower Branches Out

Christmas trees are a staple crop for many farms in Oregon, including this tree farm off Interstate 5. (NRCS photo)

Christmas trees are a staple crop for many farms in Oregon, including this tree farm off Interstate 5. (NRCS photo)

During a time of year more often associated with consumption than conservation, Daniel Logan, owner and operator of Logan Tree Farm near North Plains, Ore., shows that managing and preserving the land yields both profit and holiday cheer.

Raising Christmas trees is a family business for Logan, who can remember pruning and clipping trees as early as six years old. His family has grown Christmas trees in the area since 1883, and he continues the tradition, managing about 35 acres of Christmas trees, including Douglas, Noble, Grand and Nordmann Firs. Read more »

Discover the Cover: Farmers Realize Benefits, Challenges of Soil-Improving Cover Crops

Todd and Arliss Nielsen inspect their ryegrass cover crop in Wright County, Iowa. USDA photo.

Todd and Arliss Nielsen inspect their ryegrass cover crop in Wright County, Iowa. USDA photo.

A growing number of farmers throughout the nation have “discovered the cover” — and for some very good reasons.

They’re recognizing that by using cover crops and diverse rotations, it’s possible to actually improve the health and function of their soil, said David Lamm, a soil health expert with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Farmers are also reaping the benefits healthy soils bring to their operations in the form of better nutrient cycling, improved water infiltration and more consistent yields over time. Read more »

Secretary Visits Virginia Farm, Announces Progress on Effort to Reduce Farm Sediment Runoff into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

 

NRCS Illustration showing a substantial reduction in farm runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

NRCS Illustration showing a substantial reduction in farm runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited a Virginia Century Farm in Stafford County to release a new report that shows how farmers like Gerry Silver are helping make significant progress in reducing sediment and nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The Secretary lauded Silver Ridge Farm as a gold standard for conservation because the owners have implemented voluntary conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till planting to control soil erosion and prevent the release of nitrogen and phosphorus into area waterways.  Though the family has kept the land in continuous agricultural use for more than 100 consecutive years, he called the operation a “farm of the future” because the family has continued to evolve their operation over time to maintain productivity and diversify income opportunities. Read more »

USDA Celebrates Soil’s Importance on its Special Day

In this photo from the 2009 Society for Range Management (SRM) Award tour, Soil Quality Specialist, Rick Bednarek, formerly of SD, explained the darkness of the soil was due to the organic matter which is the key indicator of the health of soil.

In this photo from the 2009 Society for Range Management (SRM) Award tour, Soil Quality Specialist, Rick Bednarek, formerly of SD, explained the darkness of the soil was due to the organic matter which is the key indicator of the health of soil.

Too often, it’s treated like dirt. But this week our living and life-giving soil is finally getting some of the respect it deserves today, for World Soils Day.

While soil may not enjoy the media attention of Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s, it can be argued that it shares importance with all three. Where would we be without soil?

This amazing resource is responsible for nearly all life on the planet. Naturalist Aldo Leopold describes soil perfectly, saying: “Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” Read more »