Healthy soils are a cornerstone of healthy lands. Healthy soils are soils that function as a living system to continually sustain plant and animal life, protect air and water quality, and foster plant, animal, and human wellbeing. Healthy soils are key to a productive farm.
Unfortunately, many acres of farmland continue to be subjected to unsustainable agricultural practices like the extensive use of tillage, limited or no crop rotation, and overuse of pesticides and herbicides that promote poor soil health. These practices lead to soil loss/erosion, soil degradation, poor air and water quality, and loss of biodiversity.
By introducing farming practices that focus on reducing tillage, increasing soil cover, biodiversity, and the proper use of soil amendments and fertilizer, we can protect our lands and build healthier, stronger soils for the generations to come.
Maintaining soil cover – either in the form of living plants or crop residues/mulch – is integral to maintaining soil health. By acting as a barrier, living plants and crop residues protect the soil from both wind and water erosion, while simultaneously providing habitat and food for beneficial soil organisms (such as earthworms), reducing weed pressure and compaction, increasing soil moisture retention, and moderating soil temperatures.
What can we do?
Maximize plant diversity and keep soil covered and rooted:
Rotating crops, adding new crops to rotations, cover crops.
Keeping living plants all year round helps feed soil organisms. Depending on your farm, there are many different crops you can plant to protect the soil for example: Perennial Hay and pasture, cover crops, fall planted grain crops such as winter wheat.
Leaving crop residue, mulches, or minimizing soil disturbance:
Changing tillage practices for example: from fall plowing to spring plowing, adopting conservation tillage, no-till. Keeping crop residues on the farm for example, don’t sell wheat straw.
Tools and Resources
One important ecological principle is that diversity contributes to stability and productivity.
This factsheet compares continuous cropping and crop rotation systems, outlines what to consider if you want to move to crop rotation, lists tips to making it work, and describes proven crop rotation combinations.