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Farming Nature's Way

Posted by Dan Gillespie, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska in Conservation
Feb 21, 2017
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.

Tillage destroys soil structure, and is catastrophic to the populations of these beneficial and diverse organisms. Soil microbes help cycle nutrients that support plant and root growth, which in turn support soil microbes that support plant growth ― it’s the underground circle of life.

With assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers and ranchers are restoring healthy soils.

NRCS helps farmers and ranchers emulate nature’s way – to have something growing in the soil. That means implementing continuous no-till systems that include cover crops that keep living roots growing in the soil to support plant growth and biological activity.

Remember, nature built healthy and productive soils and didn’t till the soil.

Farmers interested in learning more about soil health and soil health management systems should visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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Comments

Kirangwa Godfrey
Jan 15, 2016

I consider soil healthy as any living mother,she is to be sucked and must be fed with balanced diet.For soil,REPLENISHMENT should always be emphasized.Mixed farming is a good practise.Thanks USDA to pay attention to rural sector.

Santosa Laksana
Jan 19, 2016

Hello USDA.

My name is Santosa Laksana from Indonesia.
How can I get the lesson about make a healthy soil from you? I am now planting the mustard green used the poly bag. Thank you for any help. I really want to join with USDA.

Spencer Miller
Jan 19, 2016

Hello Santosa,

Thanks for your comment! We recommend four basic soil health principles to improve soil health and stability:

1. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil.
2. Manage soils more by disturbing them less.
3. Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.
4. Keep the soil covered as much as possible.

Following those principles will give you a great start. You can find lots of additional soil health information on our website: http://go.usa.gov/k563

Here are some profiles of farmers in the Pacific Islands who have had success growing their soil health: http://go.usa.gov/cU4Cx

Wishing you healthy soil & crops,

-NRCS

David Friedman
Jan 26, 2016

It is encouraging to read more about efforts that support functioning soils. Would like to see more outreach in connecting functioning soils and climate. As you are aware climate is one of the five soil forming factors. As climate changes what indicators does NRCS have available to evaluate soil conditions and how can NRCS use data, tools, and potential soil functional standards to install and cost share on soil practices? Why can't NRCS mandate that if you are cost sharing for other practices I.e. drainage, irrigation etc. that the farmer must also install approved soil standards/practices?