Over the last decades the critical importance of applying principles of soil biology and interactions between soil biological, physical, and chemical processes toward system-based soil health management, has gained significant recognition and understanding. Improving soil health on our nation’s agricultural lands will allow farmers and ranchers to simultaneously improve water quality, increase soil water availability, enhance resilience to extreme weather, enhance nutrient cycling, increase carbon sequestration, provide wildlife habitat (including pollinators), enhance rural economic opportunity, and meet the food production needs of a rapidly growing population on a shrinking available land base. Efforts to improve soil health will thus provide significant return on the nation’s conservation investment.
In 2014, this recognition and demand from stakeholders led to the initiation of the new NRCS Soil Health Division, which is currently being stood up. The purpose of the new Soil Health Division is to incentivize and facilitate producers in implementing science-based, effective, economically viable soil health management systems on the nation’s diverse agricultural lands, in collaboration with partner organizations. Key goals of the Soil Health Division include providing advanced training to diverse audiences, and facilitating soil health assessment, farm/ranch scale soil health management planning adapted to local conditions, and assistance for on-the-ground implementation of soil health management systems.
The National Soil Quality and Ecosystems Branch located at NRCS' National Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, NE, specializes in technology development and technical assistance for soil quality assessment and inventory. The interdisciplinary staff develops new tools and decision support aids for assessment; interpretations of dynamic soil properties; standards for inventory; new methods for field recording; as well as innovative data storage and retrieval systems. This staff offers training and assistance for in-field soil quality assessment, dynamic soil properties inventory, ecological site description (ESD) development and related topics upon request.