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Posts tagged: soil health

Five Questions Non-Operator Landowners Should Ask their Farmers about Soil Health

NRCS provides five questions non-operator landowners should ask their farmers about soil health. NRCS graphic by Jennifer VanEps.

NRCS provides five questions non-operator landowners should ask their farmers about soil health. NRCS graphic by Jennifer VanEps.

More farmers, ranchers and others who rely on the land are taking action to improve the health of their soil. Many farmers are actually building the soil. How? By using soil health management systems that include cover crops, diverse rotations and no-till.

And when they’re building the soil they’re doing something else – they’re also building the land’s production potential over the long-term.

But how do non-operator landowners (people who rent their land to farmers) know if their tenants are doing everything they need to do to make and keep their soil healthy? Barry Fisher, an Indiana farmer and nationally recognized soil health specialist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, recommends that they ask their farming partner these five questions. Read more »

Focus on Soil Health Drives Innovation, Moisture Preservation for an Oregon Farmer

David Brewer is a fifth-generation farmer who manages the Emerson Dell Farm, which was founded in 1883. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.

David Brewer is a fifth-generation farmer who manages the Emerson Dell Farm, which was founded in 1883. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.

Without irrigation, it’s hard to imagine growing a cash crop in an environment that receives less than 12 inches of precipitation annually. Welcome to the world of grain farmers in central and eastern Oregon.

David Brewer is one of those farmers. But rather than looking to the sky for help, he’s looking to the soil — improving its health in an effort to retain and preserve every drop of precipitation that happens to fall on his farm.

Brewer is a fifth-generation farmer who manages the Emerson Dell Farm, which was founded in 1883, and now includes more than 2,000 acres of cropland and 800 acres of pasture — just southeast of The Dalles, Oregon. Read more »

Event at USDA Ushers in 2015 as the International Year of Soils

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Yesterday, we officially launched the International Year of Soils here at USDA.

Most people don’t realize that just beneath their feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence. I’m talking about soil. There are more living organisms in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Our soils are alive. We talk about soil health – not soil quality — on purpose. It’s an important distinction. Anything can have a “quality,” but only living things can have health. Read more »

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Read more »

Oregon Farmer Uses Conservation to Grow Farm, Giant Pumpkins

Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

Oregon organic farmer David Brown didn’t start off growing 400-pound pumpkins, but every fall they hold a prominent place on Brown’s Mustard Seed Farms. Starting out as a 26-acre farm in Marion County, Oregon, Brown has grown his diverse, organic operation to 80-acres while also achieving large gains in soil health.

“Our name, Mustard Seed Farms, comes from Scripture where faith is a grain of mustard seed that God will bless, and we will grow, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Brown said. He’s grown the size of his farm and giant pumpkins by first growing the health of his soil. Brown gathers his strength from above – but does have some help from below from groups like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »

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 »