Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane Demo Farms

Soil Health

USDA-NRCS Principles of Soil HealthIt's all about the function of the soil. Healthy soils have many benefits that not only help protect the environment but also improve crop production. Soil is the engine that helps produce food, fuel, and fiber; the health of the soil matters. Soil health includes three main aspects: chemical, physical, and biological. Historically farmers have focused on the chemical and physical properties of soil, with little information available on biology. Without addressing the soil biology, it's difficult to have healthy soils.

When all three aspects of soil health are addressed collectively, the soil can improve overall water holding capacity, allow for better infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, increase soil aggregation, reduce compaction, improve trafficability, better filter pollutants, and more. Image courtesy USDA-NRCS.


Soil Health Principles

  • Reduce overall tillage on your farm
    • Depending on where you start, there are varying levels of reduced tillage, anywhere from less aggressive vertical tillage to complete no-till
  • Utilize a no-till planter and drill to reduce soil disturbance during planting
  • Inject liquid manure using low disturbance application equipment
  • If grazing, rotate livestock
  • Improve overall residue management
    • Move to reduced or no-till to keep previous crop residue at the soil surface
    • Ensure even distribution of trash behind the combine
  • Utilize cover crops
    • Overwintering is best for maximum soil cover
  • Consider perennial crops where applicable
    • If growing a crop like alfalfa, delay termination until spring rather than fall
  • Include a crop that overwinters in your crop rotation
    • Wheat, alfalfa
    • When an overwintering cash crop isn't an option, incorporate overwintering cover crops
  • If growing alfalfa, delay termination to spring rather than fall
  • Reduce fallow acres
    • Plant a cover crop or double crop when possible
  • Change it up, if you're only growing corn and soybeans, find a way to add a third crop to the rotation or add cover crops
  • Plant diverse cover crops when possible
  • Integrate livestock into your cropping system
    • If animals are not an option, consider adding manure or other organic fertilizer into your fertility plan