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A Different Kind of 'Healthcare' Taking Root in Iowa

Jay Mar, State ConservationistThere’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, we 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 decision important only to copy writers in the marketing department, focusing on “soil health" verses “soil quality" reflects a fundamental shift in the way we now care 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 upon the realization that soil isn’t just an inert growing medium. In fact, the soil is alive and teaming with trillions of microorganisms and fungi that are the foundation of an elegant, symbiotic ecosystem.

This new reality has quietly spawned an agricultural revolution. Increasingly, more and more producers in Iowa and throughout the nation are harvesting a wide range of production, environmental, sustainability and business benefits—on and off the farm—by improving soil health.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently launched a new education and awareness campaign titled "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" to help more farmers and ranchers 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.

We realize 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, we 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.

Jay T. Mar is the State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa. For more information on soil health visit www.nrcs.usda.gov