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Agronomy

Agronomy is the science of field crop production and related soil management. NRCS uses a variety of agronomic conservation practices to conserve natural resources. These practices help a producer to properly manage nutrients (fertility) and pesticides, protect or improve soil and water quality, and may increase crop yields.

Agronomic conservation practices include:

  • Conservation Crop Rotation (328)
  • Cover Crop (340)
  • Prescribed Grazing(528)
  • Nutrient Management (590)
  • Seasonal High Tunnel (798)
  • Residue and Tillage Management, No-Till/Strip Till/Direct Seed (Ac.) (329)
  • Forage and Biomass Planting (512)
  • Integrated Pest Management (595)

“Penn State Agronomy Guide”:  http://extension.psu.edu/agronomy-guide

Forages.org: http://www.forages.org/joomla/index.php/information-sheets

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Soil Health and Soil Testing

Soil Health is the ability of soil to be resilient and to perform functions such as supporting plant growth, cycling nutrients, storing water and filtering water. The health of a soil is assessed by measuring compaction, structure stability, soil organic matter, nutrient content, pH, and biologic activity. For more information, see the following resources:

“Building Soil for Better Crops” http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-Soils-for-Better-Crops-3rd-Edition

Soil Health Fact sheet: http://www.glti.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1049264.pdf

Unlock the secrets in the Soil: http://www.glti.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health

University of Maine Analytical Lab: http://anlab.umesci.maine.edu/. In addition to traditional soil testing, offers tests specific to High Tunnels, Greenhouses, and Soil Quality (Health) Analysis.

Cornell Soil Health Test and other info: http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu/index.htm.

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Cover Crops

Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and other herbaceous plants that are planted to serve multiple purposes and provide temporary cover on crop fields. Traditionally they are annual species and are used for a season or a portion of a year. They are used for a number of purposes, including erosion control, nutrient uptake, source of nitrogen, weed suppression, soil organic matter addition, interruption of pest cycles, and reducing soil compaction. In some cropping systems they are specifically used to contribute biological diversity. In addition to the benefits listed above, biological diversity has been found to increase crop production.

“Managing Cover Crops Profitably” http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition

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Reduced-Tillage Farming

Conservation tillage comes in various forms, such as no-till, strip-till, and mulch-till. In essence it is a total or partial reduction in soil disturbance at the time of planting. Some or all of the residues from the previous crop or cover crop remain on the soil surface. Soil health is improved, and soil and water resources are protected.

“Better Soils With the No-Till System”: http://panutrientmgmt.cas.psu.edu/pdf/rp_better_soils_with_noTill.pdf

“Steps Towards a Successful Transition to No-Till”: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uc192.pdf

Farmer to Farmer Tips: http://www.panotill.org/resources/no-till-tips/

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National NRCS Website on Agronomy