What is Soil Health & How Do I Get There?

Soil Health!!!

It's a phrase that is picking up momentum across the country the past few years.  What is it? Is it important? 

For the past 75 plus years people around the county have been promoting and implementing conservation practices to help reduce soil loss and runoff, utilize proper nutrients for crop needs, use rotations to increase production, and reduce pest pressures. 

With rotations changing over the last several years here in Holmes County, we are seeing fewer forage and small grain acres and a dramatic increase in soybean acreage.  By making this change, we are seeing less residue for the organisms in the soil to utilize, higher soil loss and potentially more nutrients leaving the fields and ending up in our waterways.  Implementing several conservation practices as a system may help with all these negative issues plus improve soil health. 

Is your rotation and tillage too intense for your particular field?  Working ground on C (6-15%) and D (15-25%) slopes has the potential to result in severe erosion and runoff if not managed properly.  Years ago, most steep slopes had some type of grass in the rotation to help protect the soil.  If intense rotation, like corn- soybeans, are being planned, a complete package of practices are needed to protect the soil.   No-till definitely needs to be a highly considered on these slopes.  If you need to do tillage, then the rotation is going to need to be less intense by adding small grains or hay. 

Cover crops have been added to these intense rotations to help provide protective cover over the winter.  Not only does cover help with erosion, organisms in the soil are utilizing the residue and improving soil health and organic matter.   Having a “living crop” (remember the hay and small grains in the past) growing many days throughout the year has been shown to make the soil come to life!!! This living environment will only improve soil health.

Utilizing practices to reduce and eliminate soil loss allows for the nutrients to be best utilized.  In a society that tends to blame agriculture for all the problems, management and proper nutrient utilization is a must.  Are we fertilizing for realistic yields?  Are we soil testing regularly to see what our nutrient needs are?  Are we taking credit for livestock manure? 

Combining a number of conservation practices into one management plan is needed to improve your SOIL HEALTH.  For more information on integrating no-till or strip-till with cover crops, be sure to check out the following video by NRCS's Barry Fischer:

If you want assistance to help with reducing soil erosion and runoff, improving your rotation or help with nutrient management, contact the Holmes NRCS/SWCD office at 62 W. Clinton St., Millersburg, Ohio 44654 or phone (330-674-2811. 

Chuck Reynolds, District Conservationist

Chuck is the District Conservationist for Holmes and Coshocton counties with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  He began his career as a summer trainee in 1981 with the Soil Conservation Service and has been located in Ashland, Delaware, Harrison, and Fairfield counties prior to moving to Holmes County August of 1984.  He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.   Chuck is married to Beth (Oswald) and resides near Berlin.  Chuck and Beth have two sons, Luke and Cole located in Columbus.  He also has a 215 acre farm in Knox County that he owns in partnership with his dad and brother. Many conservation practices have been implemented and maintained as part of the operation. Contact Chuck at 330-674-2811 or chuck.reynolds@oh.usda.gov