Healthy Soils for Today and Beyond
“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
I think Theodore Roosevelt would be thrilled to embrace the concept of Soil Health. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, defines Soil Health as “the continued capacity of soil as a vital living system, whereby carbon, nutrients and water are cycled efficiently, assuring primary production and environmental quality are optimized.” I think that now, more than ever, it is vitally important that we take great care of our soil and use it wisely. Our vision at the Adams County Soil and Water Conservation District is to have the full commitment of Adams County citizens to utilize and develop the natural resources of our community to their proper and best use.
Let us point out something very important here. No one is suggesting that the land not be used, we are suggesting the opposite. We are suggesting that the land be used properly. This is why the concept of soil health is so exciting! Building a healthy soil on our farms allows us to increase its usefulness and will provide our children with a healthier soil than we have now. The concept of soil health is a win/win for everyone. It not only increases the usefulness of the land for future generations, but it will build a more viable and profitable soil for us as well.
How do we build soil health? It takes a systems approach. There is not a silver bullet, or a one size fits all solution. Today’s conservation agriculture takes a holistic, systems approach. The incorporation of several conservation best management practices, such as no-till, cover crops, buffer strips, and waterways are used side by side. Producers then, plan crop rotations, apply nutrients only where they are needed, control the water draining from fields and more. This systems approach requires a new management mindset, and thousands of farmers are adopting it, as the approach promotes the health of the soil and gains the benefits of working with nature instead of working against it. The good news is that today’s farmers are operating with a whole new approach – one in which economic and environmental sustainability emerge from conservation-minded management.
Yes, soil health is great for the environment. Yes, soil health will reduce erosion and improve water quality! But, what will it do to my bottom line? That is the number one question producers wrestle with as they contemplate incorporating the concept into their farming operation. Below is a list of the numerous economic benefits associated with the use of conservation practices:
* When using no-till, farmers can use smaller tractors in the field. As a result, less horsepower is needed and less fuel is used.
* Using effective nutrient strategies, nutrient delivery to the plant is improved, which means fertilizer efficiency is higher.
* With improved soil health, the soil’s natural drainage is often improved, which means that producers can get into a field after a rain earlier when using a conservation system than when using an intensive till system. With improved drainage, soils also warm up faster in the spring.
* When soils are improved, cover crops are used and crop residues are effectively managed, crops in a conservation system show drought stress later than crops in an intensive till system.
* Conservation practices improve the production capabilities of the land. For example, in 2012 the CTIC found in a survey that corn planted after cover crops had a 9.6 percent increase in yield compared to side by side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields were improved 11.6 percent following cover crops.
As we can see, not only will the environment benefit from soil health systems, but our bottom line will as well. If you are interested in learning more about soil health and its concepts, please let us know.
We would love to help you integrate soil health practices into your system and help you improve the sustainability of your soils.
Ryan Noblitt – County Conservationist
Adams County Soil and Water Conservation District
975 S. 11th St.
Decatur, IN 46733