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Posts tagged: soil

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 »

Honduran Agronomy Students Tour Unique USDA Laboratory

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research profile.

This was not your typical class trip. The group of agriculture students from Honduras who visited USDA’s National Soil Dynamics Laboratory (NSDL) in Auburn, Alabama, were given tours of a one-of-a kind research facility that features, among other things, 13 soil bins, about the length of football fields, that look like huge outdoor bowling lanes. These gigantic soil bins have a special purpose: they are used to study the effects of farm machinery on the soil.

The NSDL, operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has played a key role over the years in helping farmers in southeastern United States produce quality food in sustainable, economical and environmentally friendly ways. Built in 1935, the NSDL was the world’s first full-size outdoor laboratory for tillage tools and traction equipment. Work there has influenced the design of almost all modern agricultural equipment and is credited with spawning the scientific discipline of soil dynamics. The site has been designated as an historic landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. 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 »

From Soils to Suitcase, Oregon Geologist Travels the World to Help Those in Need

Paul Pedone, a geologist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, poses for a photo with Zebitt in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia while working on a school construction project with Engineers Without Borders. Photo courtesy of Paul Pedone.

Paul Pedone, a geologist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, poses for a photo with Zebitt in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia while working on a school construction project with Engineers Without Borders. Photo courtesy of Paul Pedone.

When most people think about retirement, they think of sitting on a beach, reading books, or relaxing. Paul Pedone, has different plans. As a newly-registered member of Engineers Without Borders, Pedone is traveling across the globe to do what he does best — study the soil.

“I was looking for a meaningful retirement opportunity, so I got involved with our local EWB chapter here in Portland,” said Pedone, a geologist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Oregon. “I started working with a group of students at Portland State University as a mentor for their EWB program.”

Pedone has worked for NRCS for 43 years, and as the prospect of retirement nears, his work with EWB provides a pathway to continue his service to the environment and to others. Read more »

Want to Know about Soil Moisture on your Farm? Soon, There May be an App for That

Tom Jackson, shown here at a Soil Climate Analysis Network site in Huntsville, Alabama coordinates in situ soil moisture networks as part of several satellite remote sensing programs, including the recently launched Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Mission.  Dr. Jackson is currently stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California helping the SMAP Science Team produce a calibrated and validated global soil moisture product. USDA ARS Photo.

Tom Jackson, shown here at a Soil Climate Analysis Network site in Huntsville, Alabama coordinates in situ soil moisture networks as part of several satellite remote sensing programs, including the recently launched Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Mission. Dr. Jackson is currently stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California helping the SMAP Science Team produce a calibrated and validated global soil moisture product. USDA ARS Photo.

“Probably it is one of the most innovative interagency tools on the planet.”  So said Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in Boulder, CO), in describing the development of a coordinated National Soil Moisture Network.

Americans hear the words “drought” and “flood” quite often, but a key factor in determining drought or flood potential, crop yield, water supply, hydrology or climate change impacts is soil moisture.  At the Ag Outlook Forum, held recently in suburban Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA’s National Water and Climate Center (part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service) outlined plans for a nation-wide soil moisture monitoring system and the pilot system that will pave the way. Read more »

Soils Support Urban Life

Community gardens like this one in Louisville, KY, bring neighbors together to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in areas that usually have no access to fresh produce. NRCS photo.

Community gardens like this one in Louisville, KY, bring neighbors together to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in areas that usually have no access to fresh produce. NRCS photo.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils. This is one of a continuing series of blogs to mark this observance.

Soil is defined as a dynamic natural body that is made up of solids, liquid and gases and occurs on the earth’s surface, contains living matter, and supports or is capable of supporting plants.  But soil is bigger than this.

Civilizations have either flourished or perished partly based on this natural resource and the capability of its people to manage and use it wisely. We all depend on the soil, regardless of where we live – rural or urban. Read more »