Soil health effort begins
NRCS campaign promotes tilling, cover crops to boost productivity
By SEAN ELLIS
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has kicked off a national education effort to help farmers improve the health of their soil.
NRCS Chief Dave White said the campaign is designed to help farmers increase their productivity and decrease the amount of inputs they use by making them aware of successful soil health management practices adopted by other farmers around the country.
The heart of the national promotion is to convince more farmers that less tilling and using a diversity of cover crops are good tools for improving the health of their soil.
"We're seeing a resurgence in cover crop uses across the country and it's really changing the soil," White told the Capital Press.
White kicked off the campaign Oct. 11 at a 1,250-acre farm in Carroll, Ohio, owned by David Brandt, who grows wheat, corn and soybeans and is considered a national leader in the so-called healthy soil movement.
Brandt said adopting no-till practices and using cover crops more extensively has saved him a lot of money and increased his productivity.
If the national NRCS effort is successful, "this can have a real big impact around the country on improving soil health by helping farmers learn how to use cover crops to improve soil health and (their) bottom line," Brandt said.
White said the effort includes four main principles:
* Using plant diversity to increase the biological diversity in soil.
* Managing soil more by disturbing it less.
* Growing living roots throughout the year.
* Keeping the soil surface covered as much as possible.
White said the USDA agency will partner with major ag groups such as Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union to get the word out about the benefits of these practices.
The NRCS' national campaign, "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil," will be rolled out over the next few months and will include short videos that introduce farmers to the benefits of no-till practices and the use of cover crops.
It will feature farmers in several states who are improving their soil health through the use of cover crops and by disturbing the soil less. White said the USDA is studying the successes of these farmers and will share the lessons they have learned.
The effort will include fact sheets, brochures, videos, Internet, radio and social media announcements and local field days.