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Published March 24, 2014, 09:33 AM

Basics of soil health

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to improving the soil health of Upper Midwest farms

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to improving the soil health of Upper Midwest farms. But the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stresses these four basic principles:

• Keep the soil covered as much as possible.

• Disturb the soil as little as possible.

• Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.

• Diversify as much as possible, using crop rotation and cover crops.

The NRCS expands those four principles into these soil health management recommendations:

• Grow a diverse number of crops in a planned sequence.

• Plant cover crops as part of that diversity.

• Use no-till farming practices.

• Use “mulch tillage” to maintain a high level of crop residue on the surface when the surface is disturbed.

• Use “mulching,” or the application of other suitable materials, to the surface to compensate for residue lost to tillage.

• Manage nutrients to meet crop needs while minimizing the impact on the soil and environment.

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