Natural systems have dark, rich, loose soil that is filled with worms, insects, and lots of microscopic creatures. Those same qualities can be created in farmland soils. Healthy soils help many factors in farm management such as: the amount of rainwater that soaks into the ground, the amount of nutrients available for plant growth, and the way plants can naturally fight pests and diseases. Farmers with long-term healthy soil will be able to farm for many years and continue the important job of feeding their neighbors. More information about soil health can be found on the NRCS website. Also, check out one of the founding fathers of the soil health movement Ray Archuleta’s videos and the Burleigh County Soil Conservation Catalog .
Four Ways to Get Healthy Soils:
- Disturb the soil as little as possible. Most crops can be planted directly into the soil without plowing and tilling. This is called no-till farming. Soils that aren’t plowed have more organic matter, more worms, more fungi, and are stronger soils with more spaces for roots, air and water.
- Keep the soil covered. Farmers can plant cover crops after the cash crop is harvested. Old leave residue on the surface to protect soil particles from pounding rains and the sun’s heat.
- Always have something growing in the soil. After the crop (corn, soybeans, vegetables, etc) is harvested, it is important to plant other crops to protect the soil and always have a living root system. These second crops are called cover crops.
- Have lots of different plants growing in the fields. This can happen by planting a different crop each year or by planting a mixture of cover crop seeds. When different plants are growing above the ground, the soils will also have more types of insects and microscopic life.