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Soil Health

Soil is a living and life-giving substance, without which we would perish.

As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. So much so that we believe improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important conservation endeavors of our time.

The resources on this soil health section of our site are designed to help visitors understand the basics and benefits of soil health—and to learn about Soil Health Management Systems from farmers who are using those systems.

Summer Planting Cover Crop between Rows of Planted Corn and Soybeans

close up of drill between rows of soybeansGetting a mix of cover crops established after the fall harvest can be a tough challenge. Lake County farmer Jack Thornton is having early success planting a cover crop mix between established rows of corns and soybeans. Learn more...





Don't Farm Naked - Eaton Conservation District Hosts Field Day to Promote Cover Crops for Soil Health

Don’t farm naked, plant cover crops for soil health! That was the theme of a field day sponsored by the Eaton Conservation District, Eaton County Farm Bureau and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation service and held on Sept. 12.

The Country Mill and Upright Farms in Charlotte hosted the event that featured Dr. Hans Kok, an Indiana based agriculture consultant who contracts with the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. Kok uses an innovative approach to teach producers about the importance of managing soils much like they would livestock or crops to maximize long term sustainability and farm economics. 

The Field Day also featured demonstrations and discussions about improving soil health on the farm, integrated weed management tips to most efficiently utilize pesticides, and  an update on the new Farm Bill. Field day attendees also saw an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs or drones) demonstration. Bruno Basso, associate professor at Michigan State University, demonstrated his work using UAVs to model water and nutrient cycling in relation to agro-ecosystems. Basso is working to develop SALUS, a next-generation process-based model that integrates crop productivity with water, carbon, and nutrient fluxes.

Profile in Soil Health - Ionia County farmer Jeff Sandborn

Ionia County farmer Jeff Sandborn utilizes a controlled traffic pattern to avoid soil compaction when applying farm chemicals.Ionia County farmer Jeff Sanborn uses a controlled traffic system to limit soil compaction in his fields. A controlled traffic system uses global positioning technology to operate equipment on the same path when planting, applying chemicals and harvesting. Heavy equipment compacts the soil, reducing the infiltration of water and air. Minimizing the amount of land equipment travels over through a controlled traffic system, combined with minimal tillage, greatly reduces soil compaction. Learn more...

Profile in Soil Health - NRCS State Agronomist Jerry Grigar

NRCS State Agronomist Jerry Grigar on his farm in Gratiot CountyNRCS State Agronomist Jerry Grigar credits over 30 years of no-till on his 140-acre farm in Gratiot County for higher yields in rain-challenged growing seasons. Learn more...

Earth Day 2014

Rose Lake Plant Materials Center Agronomist John Durling explains the importance of cover crops to soil health at an Earth Day event in Lansing.

NRCS staff presented information on the benefits of cover crops on soil health and the environment at an Earth Day event hosted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Students from schools as far away as Grand Rapids and Flint, as well as local students, attended the event held near the Michigan capitol on April 22. The NRCS exhibit demonstrated how cover crops reduce soil erosion and the different types of cover crops planted by Michigan Farmers.

Michigan Soil Health Links

Healthy Soils Produce Healthy Crops (USDA SARE)
Cover Crop Innovators Video Series - Henry Miller, Centreville, Mich.  (USDA SARE)
National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health - Includes links to presentations from Feb. 2014 conference
Michigan Cover Crops - Michigan State University
Tillage Practices Have a Direct Correlation to Soil Health - Michigan State University Extension
Soil Health and Soil Quality - Michigan State University Extension
Midwest Cover Crops Council

NRCS National Soil Health Awareness Web page - More Soil Health Resources including Fact Sheets, Videos, Downloadable Infographics and more

Five Questions Non-operator Landowners Should Ask Farmers about Soil Health