Investing in Your Farm's Future: Soil Health Principles

Over 400 producers and conservation partners attended the 2018 Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference: Investing in Your Farm’s Future. The conference was held in Stevens Point on February 27, 2018, and highlighted soil health and the use of various cover crops in a reduced or no-till system.

Barry Fisher, a 36-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), shared a keynote presentation on the four principles of soil health and how to use cover crops and no-till to achieve more resilient cropping systems. Fisher noted improving soil health is key to long-term, sustainable agricultural production. Healthy soils hold more water by binding it to organic matter, and soils lose less water to runoff and evaporation. Organic matter builds as tillage declines and plants and residue cover the soil. Organic matter holds 18‒20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use.

Fisher presented a path to healthy soils explained in these four basic soil health principles: (1) use plant diversity to increase pathways for nutrient cycling, (2) manage soils more by disturbing them less, (3) keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil and (4) keep the soil covered as much as possible.

“Soil health is the continued capacity of a soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans,” said Fisher, NRCS regional soil health team leader. Your local NRCS Service Center can help you get started by developing a soil health management plan to…

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