Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White visited a family-owned farm in Ohio last week to announce the start of a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort meant to highlight the benefits of improving and maintaining America's soil.
"This initiative will help our farmers meet current and future demands for American-grown agriculture by encouraging good soil and natural resources practices that are beneficial to their operations," White says. "We understand that soils and farms vary across the country, so our job is to provide farmers the very best information available to meet their unique needs and help their business thrive."
White visited the farm of David Brandt, who experienced a successful harvest despite extreme weather and challenging growing conditions. Good soil conditions and management practices contributed to the surprising yield, though little precipitation fell across central Ohio over the summer.
Natural Resources Conservation Service's education effort features farmers from communities in numerous states where growers are increasingly interested in how improved soil health can benefit their operations. The agency is studying successes and identifying lessons learned to share with U.S. farmers.
For example, Brandt promotes soil health by eliminating plowing and by mixing cover crops. This has significantly reduced the effort he puts into his crops. His soil has been found to be rich in spongy organic matter that feeds crops and holds more than its own weight in water. This additional moisture retention is believed to be the basis for Brandt's success in the face of the current drought.
The program has received support from the National Association of Conservation Districts and a host of other farm groups, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, USA Rice Federation and the National Farmers Union.
More than 20 farm groups and organizations, including the three above, signed a letter to NRCS Chief Dave White Thursday, explaining their interest in the new program.
"Achieving soil health is part of a systems approach to agriculture production that benefits the landscape, reduces nutrient loading and sediment runoff, increases efficiencies, and sustains wildlife habitat, while providing the potential for cost savings to producers," the group writes.
The group also addressed the drought, a key factor in the NRCS' program.
"We stand ready to work with NRCS to help identify the costs and benefits of the various conservation practices in order to assist producers when making decisions about whether to adopt practices. By using cropping systems that promote soil health, we supply a stable food system and mitigate risks of flooding and drought," the group writes.
Awareness and education components of NRCS's soil health initiative will include fact sheets, brochures, videos, web, radio and social media announcements, as well as local field days.
The NRCS' "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" effort builds on President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative, which fosters an approach to conservation that responds to the priorities of Americans.
Learn more by visiting the "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" information center.