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

Posts tagged: soil health

Climate-Smart Practices Keep the Land Covered

Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society with participants at Lockeford Plant Materials Center

Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society (with net) examines wild bees along with participants at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center’s Open House in April 2015. Photo by Amber Kerr.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”

There are many ways that farmers can use plant cover to mitigate and adapt to climate change. To learn climate-smart practices, farmers can turn to resources like USDA’s Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, California (CAPMC) which is one of 25 PMCs nationwide.  Established in the 1930’s to help with plant-based tools to combat the Dust Bowl, the PMCs test, develop, and deploy plant mixtures and cultivars to solve conservation challenges.  These challenges include soil erosion, water and air pollution, riparian degradation, loss of wildlife habitat – and now, climate change. Read more »

Innovation in the Tropics Helps Farmers Conserve Resources and Improve Soil Health

Dr. Koon-Hui Wang of the University of Hawaii presenting about Cover Crops Calculator for the Tropics

Dr. Koon-Hui Wang of the University of Hawaii is the lead principal in the national Conservation Innovation Grant on Cover Crop Calculator for the Tropics. Photo by Jolene Lau.

Farmers in the Tropics needed a better tool to estimate the nitrogen contribution from cover crops to reduce their commercial fertilizer rates.

Cover crops, which may appear as weeds to the untrained eye, are healthy plants that enhance soil health and minimize erosion. Covering the soil helps protect this precious resource that provides our food and fiber.

A calculator to address this issue was developed for Idaho and Oregon with a high success rate in legume cover crops― a type of plant, such as peas or beans, with seeds that grow in long cases (called pods). Through a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG), the University of Hawaii expanded on this proven technology and modified it for tropical climates and soil types in the Pacific Islands Area. Read more »

Hundreds of Free Webinar Series Offer On-Demand Conservation Training

2016 Planned Conservation Webinars screenshot

NRCS offers conservation webinars year-round. Hosting, automated reminders and CEU accreditation; made possible by our conservation partner, Southern Regional Extension Forestry. (Click for a larger version)

Conservation science is a broad, deep field that’s growing all the time. To help people brush up on conservation practices and learn about new technologies, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers hundreds of free conservation webinars from its online Science and Technology Training Library.

Available live or on-demand, these webinars also count as Continuing Education Units for many different certifying organizations and programs. Read more »

Accountant to Farmer: Finding Moisture in Dry Soil Conditions

Douglas Poole in front of his tractor

Douglas Poole is an evangelist who saved his own soil. Now he wants to help others save theirs. Photo: Jennifer Cole.

“Nothing motivates me quite like being told I can’t do something. They told me no-till doesn’t work here, and you’re not supposed to be able to grow any type of canola. Well, look around. Here we are.”

When Douglas Poole speaks, you can hear the passion in his voice for healthy soil and how it has helped his farm. Poole wasn’t always a soil health proponent; he used to be an accountant. Read more »

Chicken Ranching Boosts Pasture Soil Health on Iowa Farm

A woman with the hens

The hens rotate 72 hours behind the cattle herd to provide insect control, and the bus provides easy mobility from paddock to paddock.

When bison roamed the Great Plains, prairie chickens and other fowl played an important role as the clean-up crew. They would follow the herds feasting on the larvae in bison manure.

In Doug Darrow’s 160-acre mob grazing system near Oxford, Iowa, his 300 chickens have the same job, but they ride in style from paddock to paddock in an old school bus that doubles as a chicken coop. “This means there are fewer flies to pester the cows,” said Darrow. This natural form of pest control, improves herd health and rate of gain, while providing another income source from the eggs laid by the clean-up crew. Read more »

Farming Nature’s Way

The left sample, after 11 years of continuous no-till farming. The right sample, conventional tillage

These two soil samples are the same soil type. The one on the left is after 11 years of continuous no-till farming. The one on the right is conventional tillage.

No-till farming used to be only about reducing soil erosion. Today, continuous no-till is the preferred tillage system in some areas. Why? It’s all about soil health.

The loss of organic matter in soil, which is the lightest soil component and the first to wash away, is the healthiest portion of our topsoil. It is the house where the biological systems in our soils live and includes everything from the tiniest organisms like bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa to the more complex nematodes, micro-arthropods (think tiny spiders), and the more visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants. They are all part of healthy soil. Read more »