Face it. Most humans treat soil like. . .well dirt. At USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), there is a new urgency for people to know more about our soil, as good soil is disappearing due to erosion, compaction and loss of organic matter. NRCS has created a new Soil Health Division to focus on education. Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association (MOFFA) attendees were fortunate to have the Division’s new Chief, Dr. Bianca Moebius Clune, to be the featured speaker at their Winter Meeting.
Of course, organic farmers must know and appreciate the value of healthy soil. But without being able to use herbicides, most organic farmers have to till their soil. Dr. Clune says that intensive tillage is “like a little earthquake” for the soil. It breaks up soil structure, damages the biota, and can compact soil and reduce absorption. It can even affect pest management. For organic farmers, some tillage is inevitable to reduce weed pressure, but they can take actions to reduce the impact and they can monitor the conditions of the soil.
Dr. Clune provided information on how to take shovel tests to check for compaction and how to evaluate the roots for soil health and where to send your soil for testing to get a more complete analysis of soil condition, such as the Cornell Soil Health Assessment.
She urged farmers to get in touch with local NRCS offices for assistance and to be aware of the EQIP Organic Initiative that “provides financial assistance to implement a broad set of conservation practices to assist organic producers in addressing resource concerns including, but not limited to assistance with:
- Developing a conservation plan
- Establishing buffer zones
- Planning and installing pollinator habitat
- Improving soil quality and organic matter while minimizing erosion
- Developing a grazing plan and supportive livestock practices
- Improving irrigation efficiency
- Enhancing cropping rotations and nutrient management”
To learn more contact Lindsay Haines, Lindsay.firstname.lastname@example.org, an EQIP program specialist.