As you look back through agriculture there have been some real turning points. 

Agriculture saw the first real leap into production agriculture in our country with the Industrial Age, when mechanized agriculture really changed the face of our country. Larger and larger farms were created as it became possible to produce crops on many more acres.

The next big breakthrough came with the Green Revolution, where fertilizers, pesticides and plant breeding really came to the forefront and were adopted on a wide scale. 

This lead to increased yields on these acres and the breadbasket in our country really began producing a tremendous amount of food and fiber for our country — so much so that exporting foods to other countries became the backbone of foreign trade.

I can’t help but think we may be on to another significant shift in food production in our country through the focus on improving the health of the soil we work with. Soil health, through the adoption of conservation agriculture, is really taking hold across all growing regions of the breadbasket.

Many farm publications in the past several years have articles devoted to the focus of improving soil health. Many producers and researchers have spoken about the benefits of conservation agriculture. 

Cover crops, forage crops for grazing, leaving previous crops residues attached to the soil surface, no till crop production practices, water conservation, and improving the habitat for soil microbes and increasing their populations and diversity have all been mentioned as ways to improve the health of the soil.

It only makes sense that if we improve the health of the soil our plants are grown in, we should be able to improve the health of the plants we grow and lower our production costs with improved soil health. 

As producers we’re looking for ways to adopt these practices onto our own farms and ranches. As producers we are constantly looking to be better stewards of the land and also make our operations more profitable. 

On our farm we having been utilizing conservation agricultural practices to begin improving the health of the soils we work with. This is a very complicated proposition, and the farther you get into adopting these practices the more complicated it seems to become.

Understanding the intricacies of the soil is an ongoing education that is challenging and also fun to explore.

Many of these soil health benefits take time to develop so patience is an important part of the puzzle. It may take years to see the benefits materialize. At the same time you must keep your farming and ranching operations profitable.

The management of the soil to promote healthy soil microbe populations may be the next big step in production agriculture. You have to adopt conservation agricultural practices to begin building the environment for these soil microbes. 

Once you have these practices in place, the soil begins to change in very beneficial ways such as soil structure, soil aggregation, and water infiltration into the soil. The soil health begins to materialize and the benefits along with this change are substantial. The soil microbes now have the environment to thrive.

In my next column, I’ll look at why this improved soil health may become the next big step in production agriculture. If we are able to improve the health of the soil and the plants we grow and lower our cost of producing these crops, it should be a win-win for producers and consumers.