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Posts tagged: soil health

A Hedge against Drought: Why Healthy Soil is ‘Water in the Bank’

Niagra Falls infographic

As soil health improves, so too does its hydrologic function. This graphic illustrates how much additional water could be stored in the soil of all U.S. cropland with the addition of 1 percent of organic matter.

While most look to the sky for drought relief, an increasing number of farmers are looking to the soil. And for good reason: Healthy soils capture and store much more water – which can come in handy during dry spells.

Through its “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is leading the effort to get more farmers and ranchers to adopt soil health management systems for a wide range of on- and off-farm benefits – including drought resiliency.

So what’s the water-banking secret in healthy soil? Read more »

No-Till and Cover Crops from a Farmer’s Point of View

Jamie Scott participated in a roundtable on climate change and agriculture with USDA Secretary Vilsack in East Lansing, Michigan on April 23rd, 2015. Mr. Scott is the Chairman of the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District and currently serves as the Vice-President of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Alongside my father Jim, I operate JA Scott Farms. Together we grow approximately 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in Kosciusko County, Indiana. One-hundred percent of those acres are planted using a no-till conservation cropping system that incorporates cover crops every winter.

We use this approach to take advantage of the soil health benefits of no-till and cover crops. We have higher yields, richer soil, and improved water holding capacity. I am also encouraged that these practices can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. We have found that these benefits outweigh the added expense of labor and cover crop seeds. Read more »

The Earth Day Confessions of a Soil Health Geek

Unlock the Secrets in the Soil graphic

Farmers throughout the country are growing a new hope in healthy soil, which is cause for celebration on Earth Day 2015. Illustration by Catherine Ulitsky, NRCS.

I am a soil health geek.

I didn’t seek to become a geek. But the more I learned about our living and life-giving soil, the more I became convinced this miracle under our feet holds the promise of our future.

We are all connected to the soil. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. However, for years it was believed that the best hope for our precious soil was to slow its rate of erosion—to retard its inevitable decline. Read more »

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 »