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Posts tagged: soil health

Conventional Tillage Harvests a Haboob, Unhealthy Soils

A powerful dust storm, known as a haboob, blankets a farm near Ritzville, Wash. Photo courtesy of Susan DeWald. Used with permission.

A powerful dust storm, known as a haboob, blankets a farm near Ritzville, Wash. Photo courtesy of Susan DeWald. Used with permission.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and state Soil and Water Conservation Districts has partnered for decades on protecting, restoring and enhancing private lands across the United States. Jim Armstrong is communications and special projects coordinator with the Spokane County Conservation District in Washington. – Jennifer VanEps, NRCS Washington

Haboob: a funny word, but its meaning is far from laughable. Defined as a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric current, haboobs can have catastrophic effects on both land and life.

Dry August winds often stir up dust clouds in central and eastern Washington, but 2014 was exceptional. On Aug. 12, an enormous, miles-wide haboob, which was reminiscent of those from the Dust Bowl era, descended upon eastern Washington. Two weeks later, another dust cloud caused a 50-car pile-up in the southern part of the state, sending multiple people to the hospital and shutting down Interstate 82. Read more »

Soil Health Campaign Turns Two: Seeks to Unlock Benefits on- and off-the-Farm

Ohio farmer David Brandt farms with soil health in mind, making his place perfect to launch NRCS’ “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign. USDA photo.

Ohio farmer David Brandt farms with soil health in mind, making his place perfect to launch NRCS’ “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign. USDA photo.

Two years ago, at the farm of soil health pioneer Dave Brandt in Carroll, Ohio, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officially launched the “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.” The Brandt Farm was a fitting birthplace for a soil health education and awareness effort, since Brandt has been a leader, advocate and teacher of soil health principles for nearly three decades.

He continues to dedicate much of his time and energy to teaching farmers and others about the basics and benefits of soil health. And speaking of benefits, healthy soil is loaded with them. Read more »

Soil Health Brought to Life on Lawn of USDA’s Whitten Building

Oklahoma Conservation Commission Soil Scientist Greg Scott talks about the practical benefits of best soil management practices during NRCS’ soil health demonstration earlier this month. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Oklahoma Conservation Commission Soil Scientist Greg Scott talks about the practical benefits of best soil management practices during NRCS’ soil health demonstration earlier this month. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Recently, I watched Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) provide testimony on the benefits of soil health during a House Agriculture Committee hearing. After the Chief’s impassioned testimony, I met with the crew setting up the rainfall simulator demonstration on the lawn of the USDA’s Whitten Building.

I couldn’t help but hope that the “Bundled Benefits of Soil Health” event would effectively illustrate what Chief Weller had only hours earlier discussed with lawmakers. Before long, the audience began to assemble and people passing by from the National Mall stopped to watch as a cowboy from Oklahoma, Greg Scott, a retired NRCS soil scientist and Chris Lawrence, NRCS cropland agronomist in Virginia, delivered the event’s soil health message. Read more »

The Sun Shines on an Illinois Farm as Secretary Vilsack Highlights Conservation Efforts

Farmer Wayne Erickson, now 83, and his current tractor. (NRCS photo)

Farmer Wayne Erickson, now 83, and his current tractor. (NRCS photo)

Our trip to the Erickson farm in Milan, Illinois involved a three hour drive through pouring rain. But once we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun made a partial appearance. Because we had about 40 partners, guests, and several media reps invited, I called it divine intervention.

Secretary Vilsack was here to announce the national Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, using a multi-generation Illinois farm as a fitting and picturesque backdrop. The family took the Secretary on a short driving tour to show all they’ve done to protect their 100 year-old farm. Read more »

A Kentucky Professor Works to Improve Irrigation Efficiency, Soil Health in High Tunnels

The University of Kentucky is using a Conservation Innovation Grant to improve the efficiency of seasonal high tunnels. NRCS and UK staff  view a water line with a high tunnel in the background. NRCS photo.

The University of Kentucky is using a Conservation Innovation Grant to improve the efficiency of seasonal high tunnels. NRCS and UK staff view a water line with a high tunnel in the background. NRCS photo.

Seasonal high tunnels have emerged in the past few years as an important tool for farmers wanting to extend their growing seasons. Right now, thanks to a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA, a University of Kentucky professor is studying them – and how they can be made more efficient.

Krista Jacobsen, an assistant professor of horticulture, is studying the soil inside of high tunnels and the possibilities of catching rainwater to irrigate crops inside of them. High tunnels are plastic-covered structures that enable farmers to have crops ready earlier or later in the season. Read more »

World’s Best Soil Judgers Visit Washington, Meet Secretary Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.

It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. Read more »