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Soil Health

Healthy soil is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture.

Managing for soil health allows producers to work with the land – not against – to reduce erosion, maximize water infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, save money on inputs, and ultimately improve the resiliency of their working land.

Whether you grow corn in Alabama, raise beef cattle in Wyoming, or something in between, we’re here to help you build the health of your soils and strengthen your operation. Learn here about the principles of soil health and usable best practices. Then visit your local USDA service center where we can help you develop a management plan that supports your goals.

Principles to Improve Soil Health

tractor

Minimize Disturbance

From hooves to plows, soil is disturbed in many ways. While some disturbance is unavoidable, minimizing disturbance events across your operation builds healthier soils.

To minimize disturbance of your soil, you can:

  • Limit tillage
  • Optimize chemical input
  • Rotate livestock

farm field

Maximize Soil Cover

As a general rule, soil should be covered whenever possible. You can plant cover crops as part of both grazing and cropland operations.

To maximize soil cover year round, you can:

  • Plant cover crops
  • Use organic mulch
  • Leave plant residue

diverse crops

Maximize Biodiversity

Increasing diversity across your operation can break disease cycles, stimulate plant growth, and provide habitat for pollinators and organisms living in your soil.

  • Plant diverse cover crops
  • Use diverse crop rotations
  • Integrate livestock

plant roots

Maximize Presence of Living Roots

Living roots reduce soil erosion and provide food for organisms like earthworms and microbes that cycle the nutrients you plants need.

  • Reduce fallow
  • Plant cover crops
  • Use diverse crop rotations

Soil Health Practices for Working Lands

No Till or Reduced Till

We’ve learned that most operations do not need heavy tillage – or often any tillage at all – to produce healthy crops. Minimizing tillage can reduce soil erosion across your operation while saving time and money. Read the USDA blog story: Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming.

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Cover Crops

Though not typically harvested for a profit, cover crops still provide valuable services to your operation. The roots of cover crops make channels in the soil that improves its ability to take in water. Cover crops also build soil organic matter, hold soil in place that might otherwise erode, and feed soil organisms that provide valuable nutrients to cash crops during the traditional growing season.

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Rotational Grazing

Grazing animals recycle nutrients across the landscape. By managing your livestock to graze where and when you want, you can return valuable nutrients and organic matter back to your land and ultimately your soil.

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Crop Rotation

Diversity can be improved with cash crops as well as cover crops. Diverse crop rotations can reduce pests and diseases that are specific to certain plant species, build the health of soil microbes that provide nutrients to your plants and ultimately lead to improved yields.

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Find Your Local Service Center

We are committed to delivering USDA services to America’s farmers and ranchers while taking safety measures in response to COVID-19. While employees continue to staff our Service Centers, some are only available for phone appointments at this time. You can learn the status of your service center through this tool. Learn more at farmers.gov/coronavirus.

USDA Service Centers are locations where you can connect with Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Rural Development employees for your business needs. Enter your state and county below to find your local service center and agency offices. If this locator does not work in your browser, please visit offices.usda.gov.

Visit the Risk Management Agency website to find a regional or compliance office or to find an insurance agent near you.