For most, celebrations of National Agriculture Day conjure up scenes of a farm family around a dinner table, a tractor planting corn, or school children visiting a hog farm. Although I grew up on a farm, when I think of Ag Week I see visions of healthy soil.
“Agriculture: 365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed” is this year’s Ag Day theme, and those who live and work in the agricultural community are keenly aware production will need to increase sharply over the next few decades in order to feed and clothe the world. We must develop new technologies and techniques to produce more feed, fiber, food and fuel with less — less land, less water, less energy and fewer nutrient inputs. That’s why the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focused on soil health.
Over the past two years NRCS has worked with hundreds of farmers in Indiana to improve the health of their soil. From every corner of the state we are hearing stories of increased production and improved bottom line, all while improving the soil resource. That’s good news for all of us at a time when we are faced with climate and sustainability challenges.
It’s not a new concept, nor is it difficult to improve soil health. Here’s how: till the soil as little as possible; grow as many different species of plants as possible through rotations and a mixture of cover crops; keep living plants in the soil as long as possible; and keep the soil’s surface covered with residue year-round.
A healthy soil is full of life (bacteria, fungi, microscopic insects, earthworms, etc.); high in organic matter; covered all the time by growing plants and/or their residues; and well-structured (full of holes to allow for air and water movement).