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Soil Health

A growing number of farmers and ranchers from across the country are using cover crops and soil health management systems to improve the health and productivity of their soil. You can learn more about how some of these farmers are “Unlocking the Secrets in the Soil" here in Illinois.

Roger Windhorn, NRCS resource soil scientist, explains soil properties.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 endeavors of our time.

By focusing more attention on soil health and by educating our customers and the public about the positive impact healthy soils can have on productivity and conservation, we can help our Nation’s farmers and graziers feed the world more profitably and sustainably – now and for generations to come.

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.

So whether you’re a farmer, a researcher, a conservationist or an interested citizen, the following information will help you “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil”.

Cover Crop Economics

The Cover Crop Economics Tool is a user-friendly economic assessment tool to assess the costs and benefits of incorporating cover crops into a crop rotation. The tool assesses both the short term and long term expected costs and benefits. If you have any problems accessing the tool from this site, using the tool, or if you are interested in being added to an email list to be notified when updated versions of the tool are released, please contact Bryon Kirwan.

Document Description Download
Cover Crop Economics Tool Spreadsheet based economic assessment tool to assess the costs and benefits of incorporating cover crops into a crop rotation. Version 3.1 released January 16, 2018

Cover Crop Economics Version 3.1

(XLSM, 1Mb)
Cover Crop Economics Tool Demonstrations On demand video replays demonstrating the Cover Crop Economics Tool

20 Minute Demo

1 Hour Demo
Cover Crop$ Tool: An Economic Decision Support Tool One page flyer that provides a brief description and overview of the Cover Crop Economics Tool

Fact Sheet

(PDF, 1,661kb)


Soil Technical Notes

Document Description Download Size
Soil Tech Note 1A Soil Health Guiding Principles (PDF, 187kb)
Soil Tech Note 2A Soil Assessment (PDF, 120kb)
Soil Tech Note 3A Surface Layer (PDF, 131kb)
Soil Tech Note 4A Soil Structure (PDF, 195kb)
Soil Tech Note 5A What the Bugs Do (PDF, 120kb)
Soil Tech Note 6A Bacteria (PDF, 120kb)
Soil Tech Note 7A Fungi (PDF, 121kb)
Soil Tech Note 8A Actinomycetes (PDF, 120kb)
Soil Tech Note 9A Large Microbes (PDF, 121kb)
Soil Tech Note 10A Earthworms (PDF, 123kb)
Soil Tech Note 11A Biological Underground Community (PDF, 139kb)
Soil Tech Note 12A Soil Organic Matter (SOM) (PDF, 190kb)
Soil Tech Note 13A Types of Organic Matter (SOM) (PDF, 132kb)
Soil Tech Note 14A Residue Accumulation (PDF, 122kb)
Soil Tech Note 15A Cation Exchange Capacity (PDF, 131kb)
Soil Tech Note 16A Compacted Zone In Soil (PDF, 198kb)
Soil Tech Note 17A Soil Respiration (PDF, 125kb)
Soil Tech Note 18A Crop Diversity (PDF, 190kb)
Soil Tech Note 19A Baby Steps (PDF, 124kb)
Soil Tech Note 20A “So how do we mess it up??” (PDF, 122kb)
Soil Tech Note 21A “If you get the chance...” (PDF, 125kb)
Soil Tech Note 22A Rhizophere (PDF, 124kb)
Soil Tech Note 23A CARBON : NITROGEN RATIO (C:N) (PDF, 121kb)
Soil Tech Note 24A pH (PDF, 122kb)
Soil Tech Note 25A SHMS - Soil Health Management Systems (PDF, 120kb)


Conservation Discussions

Description Document Dowload Size

Cover Crop Plumer Research

Michael Plumer shares some of his unpublished research data

Cover Crops - Experiences From a Retired Educator

(DOCX, 1.12mb)
Cover Crops and Soil Organic matter

Cover Crops - Soils and Soil Organic Matter (SOM) "As the Soil Turns"

(DOCX, 28kb)
Cover Crops, Cost, Management Considerations

Cover Crops—Cost and Management Considerations   A General Overview

(DOCX, 27kb)


Illinois Soil Health Producer profiles


Soil Health & Cover Crop Events

Date/Time/Location Title/Description Contact

September 1-3, 2015
8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Decatur, IL

Farm Progress Show - Partners in Conservation. Site E26-E30

Check out the cover crop plots, the cover crop economics tool, soil pit, and other soil health information.

Farm progress Show website


Additional Resources

National Soil Health information