Download a PDF of the soil health infographic.
One state, one hundred soils
estimate the scale of benefits, the Conservancy team focused on three
management practices – reduced tillage, cover cropping and crop
rotations – to serve as proxies for adaptive soil health systems.
Reduced tillage decreases disturbance of the soil, thereby improving its
ability to retain nutrients and store carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere. Cover cropping between cash crop seasons maximizes the time
each year that living roots are building soil nutrients and keeping the
soil covered as nature designed. Diverse crop rotations build nutrients,
limit erosion, and foster carbon sequestration.
are not new, but they are simply too rare. The Conservancy estimates
less than 10 percent of croplands are managed this way, and measures are
required to accelerate adoption across many more millions of acres of
farmland. The US produces just under half of the world’s corn crop, so
it’s no surprise that some of the leading soil health work is already
under way in the middle of the Corn Belt. It is remarkable how
productive the lands are across the Midwest, where sophisticated modern
farming produces some of the highest yields around the world. But the
environmental impacts are also evident:
we’re losing 5-8 tons of soil per acre from our farmland; our waters are
being degraded by water run-off containing
nutrients; and the expanding Gulf of Mexico dead zone is primarily
caused by these high nutrient loads. At the same time, here as
everywhere, farmers are dealing with more extreme weather events—causing
more severe and unpredictable floods and droughts.
on improving soil health, it is possible to boost productivity and
reduce those environmental impacts. On a recent trip to Indiana, I
learned that there are more than one hundred different types of soil in
that one state alone – each requiring a specific set of actions to
ensure optimum soil health. And no one knows how to steward the land
better than our farmers, many of whom are poised to unleash a new wave
of innovation in agriculture. Mike Shuter is a corn, soybean and cattle
farmer from Madison County, Indiana. He and his family have been
no-tilling for 30 years, strip-tilling for 10 years and, for the last
five years, have been integrating cover crops into their operation.
Integrating these soil health practices is already helping farmers like
Mike boost profitability while at the same time delivering significant
Wouldn’t it be smart for society to
determine how to reward farmers for delivering water, carbon and
biodiversity services in addition to the crops they produce that feed
us? What is clear from the roadmap is that soil health is critical to
meeting that challenge – and momentum is building for unlocking the
win-win value of healthy soils for farmers, businesses and communities
for generations to come.
For more information visit nature.org/soil.
This piece also appears on the Taste of General Mills blog, where you can learn more about General Mills and the company’s sustainability initiatives and progress.