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News Release

NRCS challenges farmers and ranchers to 'soil your undies' for World Soil Day

Simple DIY test gauges microbial activity and soil health

NEWS_RELEASE_HEADER-UPDATEDNews Release: 2018-12-009
Robert Hathorne, Public Affairs Specialist, 503-414-3230,

Portland, Ore. – (Dec. 6, 2018) — The Soil Your Undies Challenge is on in Oregon! USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and partners are challenging farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to “plant” cotton underwear for soil health.

A teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on the planet. The quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil is by burying organic matter (cotton undies, for example) and digging it back up after at least 60 days. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil.

Learn more about the Soil Your Undies Challenge on the official website at and check the Challenge Tracker to meet farmers who have already participated at

To participate, take a “planting” photo and a “harvest” photo and share with We’ll put your undies on the map, literally!

Illustration of underwear on a clothes hanger hooked to the handle of a shovel. A banner reads Soil Your Undies Challenge.Why does soil health matter?

Healthy soil is at the heart of healthy food systems, healthy ecosystems, and healthy communities.

“This challenge is no substitute for lab testing,” said Cory Owens, NRCS Oregon state soil scientist. “But it’s a fun way to start thinking about what’s going on in the soil. What are your microbes up to? How does your management influence how quickly they can eat your shorts?”

Healthy soil is full of life that helps soil resist erosion, cycle nutrients and store water. To help soil microbes thrive, they need food, shelter, and variety, just like us! You can take care of your microbial friends by following these four steps:

  1. Avoid soil disturbance with plows or other tools
  2. Maximize soil cover with living plants and residue
  3. Maximize biodiversity by growing a variety of plants and integrating livestock
  4. Maximize living roots in the soil throughout the year

How healthy is your soil? Soil your undies to find out!


Download news release (PDF, 732 KB)

Download photos on Flickr

Soil Your Undies Challenge webpage

Soil Your Undies Challenge Tracker