Why soil stewardship matters for your farm
Soil quality matters for every farm operation. There’s no getting around this fact. For a farm to be successful, the people who operate it must realize the vital role soil stewardship and conservation play in farmland production.
But that’s just from a business perspective. Globally, people throughout the world rely on farmers to practice good soil stewardship so that food production can continue at the levels needed to make sure the world is fed. That’s the mission of farmers, after all.
In this blog post, we will dive deeper into soil stewardship and why it matters for your farm from both a business and an environmental perspective.
Good farms need good soil
Every successful farm operation relies on soil that is of good quality. However, it is easy to take soil quality for granted. When this happens, it leads to less productive and less sustainable farm operations.
By keeping tabs on a farm’s soil health, the USDA says farmers can reduce erosion, maximize water infiltration, allow for better nutrient cycling, save money on inputs and can increase the overall resiliency of their land.
What is soil health?
Soil health - or soil quality - is defined by the USDA “as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”
Soil contains living organisms that, when they are present in the ground, allow for life’s basic necessities - food, shelter and water. These organisms also perform functions needed to produce food and fiber.
The health and quality of farmland soil must be preserved so that it is still sustainable for future generations. By viewing soil as living, we can better understand how to keep it “healthy,” because, as the USDA puts it, only living things have health.
Plant life starts with soil quality
In farming, everything starts with soil. No crop can thrive, maybe not even survive, without good soil. No farm can survive without healthy crops.
The soil provides the much-needed nutrients to plants, which then go on to feed people and animals. Plants are also used for fuel and other by-products.
Without healthy soil, plants simply cannot be produced at needed levels to provide those benefits.
The four principles of soil health
The USDA has established the four principles of soil health as a quick guide for producers to remember when keeping soil stewardship top of mind.
The four principles are:
- Minimize disturbance - Soil disturbance is unavoidable, but strategies like limiting tillage can save money, while rotational grazing can prevent livestock overgrazing.
- Maximize soil health - Plant cover crops and use organic mulch.
- Maximise biodiversity - Plant diverse cover crops, use diverse crop rotations and integrate livestock. These practices can improve soil health, break disease cycles and stimulate plant growth.
- Maximize presence of living roots - Reduce fallow and plant cover crops to provide living roots all year, which reduces soil erosion and promotes healthy soil microbes.
A closer look at soil conservation practices
There are several soil conservation best practices in place that are not new to farmers. In fact, they may be more popular now more than ever as effective ways to use good land stewardship methods as a part of their operation.
One tried and true method is the use of cover crops. Cover crops are plants that farmers grow as a way to protect and improve soil quality by replacing needed nutrients. Cover crops also help slow soil erosion, control pests and diseases, increase organic matter and sometimes improve crop yields.
Crop rotation is another popular stewardship practice that has long been used. This is when a farmer plants different crops in rotations to help restore nutrients in the soil.
Next are no-till fields. This is when a farmer does not break up soil in their fields, which helps keep soil in place when it rains.
Wetlands benefit from soil stewardship
While we’re on the topic of conservation, we should also go into some detail on how good soil stewardship helps protect wetlands, which are known as natural water filters vital to protecting water sources that people use for drinking water and farmers use for production.
Farmers are starting to realize the benefits of protecting wetlands, too. According to the USDA, wetlands improve water quality downstream, protect areas from flooding, create better wildlife habitat, protect that habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
Soil conservation protects your investment
Landowners who wish to set up their investment for sustained success in the future, or are thinking ahead to when they will pass on their land ownership to the next generation, need to take soil conservation into consideration.
Soil conservation protects the land’s ability to provide returns on that investment long into the future.
Soil is a high priority for all
The availability of quality soil - and keeping it of that quality - is such a priority that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has an Outreach and Advocacy Division, which has the mission of providing leadership in ensuring the NRCS’s programs are accessible to all, especially underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and landowners.
These programs include funding opportunities, conservation program data, conservation technical assistance programs and activities, environmental improvement programs and many more. Many of these programs have focuses specific to soil quality and informing farmers of best practices - plus connecting them with the resources to implement those practices.
Midwest Land Management follows soil stewardship best practices
At Midwest Land Management, responsible soil stewardship is just one part of our approach to farm management. We put soil stewardship best management practices in place that can help farm owners and operators protect against erosion, preserve fresh water and build soil health for future generations.
But that is just a single aspect of how we work to get the most out of the farmland that we help manage. Midwest Land Management has been in the farm management business since 1988, so we have the experience in land management that is required to keep our clients on the path toward success.
Let’s talk more about how we can work together to build a long-term, sustainable relationship with you and your farming operation.