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National Soil Health Initiative. The Soil Health Roadmap to Productive, Sustainable Farming in the 21 st Century and Beyond. June 4, 2012. NRCS - HELPING PEOPLE HELP THE LAND. The Bigger Picture.

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national soil health initiative

National Soil Health Initiative

The Soil Health Roadmap to Productive, Sustainable Farming in the 21st

Century and Beyond

June 4, 2012



the bigger picture
The Bigger Picture
  • World population is estimated to be at 9.1 billion by 2050 (an approximate 30% increase).
  • To sustain this level of growth, food production will need to rise by 70 percent.
  • Between 1982-2007, 14 million acres of prime farmland in the U.S. was lost to development.
the bigger picture continued
The Bigger Picture, continued
  • From 1995 and 2005 the U.S. increased fertilizer imports by 48 percent for anhydrous ammonia, 93 percent for urea (solid), and 349 percent of other nitrogen fertilizers.
  • There is growing interest in sustainability and sustainably produced goods.
chief white s message of april 24
Chief White’s Message of April 24
  • “…soil is the factory of our food.”
  • …we’re getting back to our roots, focusing even more attention on soil health…”
  • “…Soil Health Management Systems can help farmers and ranchers feed the world more profitably and sustainably, now and for generations to come.”
chief white s message continued
Chief White’s Message (continued)
  • “Feeding the world by helping farmers and ranchers improve the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important endeavors of our time.”
  • “…be an ambassador for soil health.”
  • “In 1937, President Franklin D Roosevelt wrote…

’The Nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.’ ”

achieving continental scale resource environmental gains
Achieving Continental-Scale Resource & Environmental Gains
  • Focus on cropland soil health can lead to continental-scale, systematic improvements in water, air, and wildlife – all while enhancing agricultural productivity.
watershed level benefits
Watershed Level Benefits
  • Increased infiltration and water holding capacity, decreasing runoff and reducing flooding.
  • Reductions in sediment and nutrient delivery to surface waters decreasing potential for downstream hypoxic zone formation.
  • Reducing use of herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and fuel.
  • Improvement of wildlife habitat both below and above the soil surface, and improvement of riparian and estuarian food production.
a landscape example
A landscape example…
  • By increasing the water absorption of all of the cropland in the Mississippi River Basin by just one-half inch (through improved soil quality), that water retention would be the equivalent of…
a landscape example1
A landscape example…
  • The amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in 83 days.
business objectives
Business objectives
  • NRCS will make the delivery of healthy, productive soils systems to America’s farmers and ranchers a major focus of its activities.
  • As a result the agency will:
    • Provide technical and financial assistance to producers wanting to improve soil health.
    • Realize continental-scale resource improvements as producers adopt systems.
    • Support the re-focusing to provide customer conservation technical assistance related to soil health.
nrcs goals
NRCS Goals
  • Integrate Soil Health Management System planning and implementation into NRCS’ conservation programs and service delivery.
  • Increase employee and customer awareness and understanding of healthy soil ecosystems and biology, and healthy soil’s role in natural resource protection and sustainable agricultural production; and
  • Increase the number of producers implementing Soil Health Management Systems.
(Sub-Team & Leads)

Soil Survey & Resource Assessment

Initial organization


Overall Coordinator


Science & Technology

Deputy Chiefs & PAD Director


nrcs nhq framework timelines
NRCS NHQ Framework & Timelines
  • Fully “roll out” the Soil Health Initiative by Oct 1, 2012.
  • The ‘Communications’ team completed the Communications Plan and it was signed by the Chief this past week (last week of May).
  • The ‘Science & Technology’, the ‘Soil Survey & Resource Assessment’, and the ‘Programs’ teams at NRCS Headquarters will all be incorporating Soil Health and developing working tools.
soil health initiative states
Soil Health Initiative & States
  • NRCS at the individual State level will be moving forward at their own pace for the next 4-6 months.
  • There are some states that are anxious to get going, and they have already developed strategic plans and are moving forward.
  • But by May 2013, all states will likely be fully engaged.
getting on the road to healthy soils
Getting on “The Road to Healthy Soils”
  • Focus on implementing soil health systems through existing programs and services.
  • Higher ranking EQIP to producers who choose to implement entire soil health systems.
field office delivery
Field Office Delivery
  • NRCS will establish a Soil Health Management System within the Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG).
  • A soil health assessment module will be developed for use with the Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI) “Mobile Planner.”
  • Focus initially on the Soil Health Management System for cropland.
  • Address other land uses once cropland has been established.
so what is a soil health management system for cropland
So what is a Soil Health Management System for Cropland?

The Key conservation practices are:

  • 328 Conservation Cropping Rotation
  • 329 No-till or Strip-till
  • 340 Cover Crops

Supporting practices:

  • 590 Nutrient Management
  • 595 Pest Management (Integrated)
  • 633 Manure Utilization and Management
  • 393/332 Conservation Buffers/Filter Strip
conservation districts
Conservation Districts

Conservation Districts play a very important role and have the opportunity to Make Things Happen on-the-ground at the local level, which is key to getting conservation implemented.

Conservation Districts and NRCS have been and are great partners, and it would be great to continue this team effort with the Soil Health Initiative. CDs have developed good ideas and have initiated innovative programs and actions on their own to achieve conservation and soil health.

possible ideas for conservation district involvement in soil health initiative
Possible Ideas for Conservation District involvement in Soil Health Initiative
  • Join the Soil Health team (if you haven’t already).
  • Provide outreach and share information through newsletters, at meetings, one-on-one in the community, and at youth education events.
  • Sponsor field days, demonstrations, bus tours, and farmer-to-farmer discussion/support groups (cover some expenses, provide food/refreshments, provide stipends, provide a location for a meeting, organize meetings, help provide equipment or supplies).
possible ideas for conservation district involvement in soil health initiative continued
Possible Ideas for Conservation District involvement in Soil Health Initiative, (continued)
  • Be open-minded and learn more about soil health, attend educational opportunities, train yourself to do demonstrations, develop programs…
  • Recognize, applaud, support and reward (award) successful soil health ag producers. Spread the good word about them to others.
  • Facilitate recognition of ag producers by media and at meetings. Ask them to speak at meetings.
Ag Producers Leading Incorporation of Soil Health Systems

Dave Brandt, OH

Steve Groff, PA

Gabe Brown, ND

Helping People Help the Land

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer

Ray Styer, NC

Ray McCormick, IN

what can you do for soil health
What Can You Do for Soil Health?

Be an ambassador for

soil health!

A word of caution though - be aware that

the Soil Health bug

is very exciting and very contagious!