Ron Nichols, former employee of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), has an important mission for the agency: focus on healthy soil.
Nichols’ views on conservation changed when he met Kansas farmer Gail Fuller, who rebuked him and NRCS for not aiming higher than minimizing soil loss. “Your agency came up with ‘T,’” Fuller said, a measure the agency created to establish minimum soil loss or erosion required to reduce soil organic content and lower crop productivity. “Tolerable loss of soil? Do you really think there’s such a thing as a ‘tolerable’ loss of soil?” Fuller asked.
Nichols saw how Fuller was regenerating soil without a loss in productivity. Recognizing the dramatic loss of U.S. topsoil in the last century, he invested in moving from sustainability practices to regeneration of soil. Contacting dozens of farmers doing soil regeneration—across a wide range of climates—Nichols discovered four shared practices:
- Keep the ground covered with plants and residues;
- Keep living plants and roots in soil throughout the year;
- Use diverse plants and animals;
- Use no-till planting technique to limit soil disturbance.
Increase in soil organic matter, increased soil function and better water infiltration, and lower use of synthetic chemicals were the result. Studies also suggest less runoff, carbon sequestration, biodiversity boost, and improved food quality.
Why hasn’t USDA seen soil health and regenerative agriculture as its primary mission? Nichols urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to “do right” (USDA motto) and embrace them immediately.
Source: Corn and Soybean Digest
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