More than 75 percent of Iowa farmers report that they are taking steps to improve soil health on their farm and believe that healthier soils can lead to increased yields, improved drought resilience, and reduced input needs, according to the 2015 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers, conducted by Iowa State University.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) made the concept of soil health central to their agricultural programming through the agency’s “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign beginning in 2012. Iowa State University Associate Professor J. Gordon Arbuckle, who leads the annual poll, says the NRCS campaign is likely helping to increase the soil health discussion in the farm press and throughout the agricultural community.
“Most Iowa farmers reported that they have heard more about soil health in the last few years,” said Arbuckle. “They want to learn more, and they understand that NRCS is a good source of soil health information.”
2015 Survey Results
The 2015 survey included questions about soil health benefits, concerns, knowledge and action and rented land. Results suggest that there is a gap between farmers’ soil health awareness and landlords’ understanding of the concept; whereas about 70 percent of farmers expressed that they understand the concept of soil health, just 22 percent agreed that landlords have a good understanding of soil health.
This knowledge gap could have a large impact on the implementation of soil health practices since more than 16 million acres of Iowa’s cropland is rented, said Iowa NRCS State Conservationist Kurt Simon. “Iowa NRCS is working to reach these decision-makers through the web, social media, traditional media and direct mail campaigns,” he said.
And according to the 2015 poll results, the industry’s increased focused on the importance of soil health is working:
80 percent reported noticing more discussion of soil health in the farm press.
69 percent would like to learn more about how to improve soil health.
46 percent have noticed more discussion about soil health among fellow farmers.
84 percent of farmers polled are concerned about the impact of compaction on their soil health.
70 percent are concerned about the impact of pesticides on soil health.
54 percent believe they have an effective soil health management plan.
“It seems like soil health is kind of an integrative concept that helps farmers to think holistically and long-term as they take steps to improve soil health,” says Arbuckle. “Plus, the practices that lead to soil health, such as no-till and cover crops, can also result in major societal benefits like soil building, better water quality, and carbon sequestration.”