Soil Health

A healthy soil is important whether you are growing vegetables for your family in a home garden or growing crops to feed livestock. A healthy soil is key to good crop yields and long term viability of the field or garden. Soil health is something you should take the time to learn about!

Learn more about this important topic by clicking on the links below.

SCSWCD Conservation Innovation Project

Winter cover crop planted fall 2014 on Somerset County test plot

Winter cover crop planted fall 2014 on Somerset County test plot

For farmers, improving soil health leads to greater crop quality and yield. In a new project funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant program, the Kennebec, Somerset and Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation Districts are assisting landowners to explore options for improving soil health. The project provides incentive payments and other assistance for farmers to implement on-farm demonstrations to investigate the benefits of planting winter cover crops and utilizing no till/reduced till cropping methods. We are working with University of Maine Cooperative Extension (UMCE) educators to establish on-farm test plots to track the impact of different soil management strategies on soil health. Local farmers from the three counties are eligible to apply for the two year program. Priority will be given to farms in silage corn production systems. This project builds upon recent UMCE soil health research.

The overall goal of this project is to help dairy producers in Kennebec, Somerset and Waldo counties improve soil health on their farms through the use of cover crops and reduced/no-till planting, both proven soil health conservation practices. The project will provide financial and technical assistance to help project participants innovatively implement these practices.

Specific project objectives and benefits include:

Winter rye root system – great at holding soil in place and taking up water and nutrients.

Winter rye root system – great at holding soil in place and taking up water and nutrients.

    • Increase winter cover crop planting in the three counties, using new establishment methods for greater success, such as inter-seeding, heli-seeding, and planting short season silage corn varieties.
    • Increase use of reduced till or no-till management in silage corn systems.
    • Improve participants’ on-farm soil health. Since repeated tillage of conventional silage corn decreases organic matter and disturbs soil biota and soil structure, a positive benefit of reduced tillage will be improved soil quality. Reduced tillage and winter cover cropping practices together promote better soil aggregation, water infiltration and water holding capacity, and more diverse soil fauna for nutrient cycling.
    • Decrease erosion and nutrient runoff from corn fields. Since many corn fields in the area receive manure in fall applications, effective winter cover cropping will reduce nutrient and sediment losses to the environment and retain more recycled nutrients for the subsequent crop
    • Reduce the levels of chemical fertilizers and pesticides applied to corn silage fields
    • Diversify crops planted to benefit soil biological communities and reduce risk of crop loss through adverse weather conditions and extremes associated with global climate change.

With the combined environmental and crop production benefits brought about by increasing soil health on local farms, this project will benefit not only farming operations themselves, but also Maine’s natural resources and local food supply.

This project will build on the four years of data collected in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) project Reducing fuel and fertilizer costs for corn silage in the northeast with cover crops and no-till (Project Number LNE09-287). This study found that the implementation of these practices resulted in improved soil moisture control, reduced fertility input needs, and improved soil and feed quality. Growers also noted a reduction in fuel and fertilizer cost, significant labor savings, and reduced nutrient applications.

To learn more about the study, click here.

Four basic principles for managing your soil health

Here are the four principles for managing your soil health:

  • Minimize disturbance of the soil – less tillage, hoeing, roto-tilling – disturbing the soil in this way consumes organic matter and destroys beneficial soil organisms.
  • Maximize diversity of plants in rotation – planting different crops or plants is important – above ground diversity makes below ground diversity in the soil biota which is important to soil health.
  • Keep living roots in the soil as much as possible – after the summer crops are through, plant a winter cover crop such as winter rye, oats etc.
  • Keep soil covered all the times with plants and plant residue – keeping cover on the soil helps the soil retain moisture and builds organic matter.

USDA Healthy Soil Secrets

Six great informational graphics put out by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Find much more information at the NRCS soil health site.

Active Soil

Active Soil

Microorganisms

Microorganisms

Porosity

Porosity

Water Absorption

Water Absorption

Healthy Fence Row Soils

Healthy Fence Row Soils

Favorite Cocktail

Favorite Cocktail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTIONS?   Contact your SWCD Office.

Kennebec County SWCD
21 Enterprise Dr. Suite #1;
Augusta, ME  04330
(207) 622-7847 x 4
www.kcswcd.org
Email: dfinseth@kcswcd.org  

Somerset County SWCD
70 East Madison Road
(207) 474-8324 x 3
www.somersetswcd.org
Email: info@somersetswcd.org

Waldo County SWCD
46 Little River Drive
Belfast, ME 04915
(207) 338-1964 x 4
Email: kym.sanderson@me.nacdnet.net

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