Op-Ed: A Different Kind Of “Healthcare” Taking Root On Indiana Farms
By Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist
There’s a potentially game-changing movement coming from America’s heartland. It has broad implications regarding the vitality of our farms, the health of our planet and our ability to feed more than 9 billion people who will be coming to dinner by the year 2050.
This movement continues to grow thanks to a different kind of “healthcare”—the health and care of our precious soil. Previously, most of us have looked at soil in terms of its “quality.” But as one farmer observed recently, “Anything can have quality, but only living things can have health.”
So while it might seem like a trivial word-choice important only to those that work in the marketing department, the focus on “soil health" verses “soil quality" reflects a fundamental shift in the way we think about and are caring for our nation’s soil.
Talk to any farmer working to improve the health of the soil and he or she will likely tell you that the “ah-ha” moment came when they realized that soil isn’t just an inactive growing medium. In fact, the soil is alive and teeming with trillions of microorganisms and fungi that are the foundation of an elegant, symbiotic ecosystem.
This new reality has quietly brought about an agricultural revolution as more and more farmers in Indiana and throughout the nation are harvesting a wide range of benefits—on and off the farm—by improving soil health. From every angle—business, production, sustainability, and environmental—managing for soil health makes sense!
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently launched a new education campaign titled "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" to help more farmers discover the basics and benefits of soil health—and to encourage the adoption of soil health-improving practices like cover cropping, no-till and diverse crop rotations.
The journey to improving soil health has its challenges. Every farm is different and has its own set of unique resource issues. Fortunately, our nation’s farmers are innovative, courageous and tenacious. NRCS is committed to assist these soil health pioneers—and to help make their farms more productive, resilient and profitable along the way.
As we face mounting production, climate and sustainability challenges, I believe there is no better time to make a long-term commitment to improve the health of our living and life-giving soil.
The promise of our future depends on it.
Jane Hardisty is the State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana. For more information on soil health visit www.in.nrcs.usda.gov