Virginia is ‘4theSoil’ (Keeping the Farm)
(Editor’s note: Eva Rondon is a public affairs assistant with Virginia NRCS).
What do dairy producers in the Shenandoah Valley, livestock operators in coal country, row croppers in Central Virginia and poultry farmers on the Eastern Shore all have in common?
Each makes a valued contribution to the supply chain and knows that operational success is linked to the soil below us.
They can also help spread the word about the importance of protecting this precious and finite resource.
Healthy soils are vital living ecosystems that sustain plants, animals and humans, and are essential for food production.
Enhanced soil function can help a corn crop remain viable longer in dry periods, make it easier to drive across fields after rains without compaction damage and save time and money for graziers seeking to cut the number of days they feed hay.
Agricultural producers across Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic are demonstrating the ability to farm in a way that doesn’t just stop soil degradation but also regenerates it for enhanced yields, lower inputs and increased efficiency.
It all starts with four core principles that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service introduced more than eight years ago in a campaign to “unlock the secrets in the soil.”
• Keep soil covered;
• Minimize soil disturbance;
• Maximize living roots; and
• Energize with diversity.
While Virginia NRCS has championed soil quality improvement for decades, the agency kicked off this initiative in 2013 to focus on revitalizing soil life on cropland and grassland. The partnership effort involved close collaboration with farmers to learn from and mentor one another while exploring innovative approaches to refining soil management. NRCS also established the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to anchor this team approach.
Now, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the coalition are taking a big step forward to broaden that effort through an educational campaign called 4theSoil.
The campaign kicked off on June 23 (National Soil Health Day) and seeks to engage producers, organizations, advocates and the general public in a commitment to sustainable agriculture.
“The 4TheSoil Awareness launch really meets people where they are,” said Mary Sketch, Virginia Soil Health Coalition coordinator. “It provides a platform and bridge for diverse partners to come together around the importance of healthy soils for our farms, landscapes and communities.”
The number four is used to highlight the four soil health principles, and the homophone “for” illustrates support for the important natural resource. Those who back the principles or just wish to learn more about them are encouraged to take the soil health pledge on the campaign site and to follow along via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
“On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, many of our farmers recognize the importance of healthy soils and are already implementing some or all of these four important principles,” said Accomac District Conservationist Jenny Templeton. “With this campaign, we can increase public awareness and help our farmers continue to be excellent stewards of the land.”
“Whether you’re planting row crops, raising livestock on many acres or going direct to market from a small plot of land, you can apply these principles and get results,” added NRCS State Cropland Agronomist Chris Lawrence. “It’s not always easy to switch to a new approach and there can be a learning curve. That’s why NRCS and other partners are here to help.”
Lawrence says it’s important for producers to analyze their current farming systems to improve the implementation of these four principles. Farmers in Virginia and beyond consistently report improvements to their operations over time when they take that step to refine the application of these strategies on their land.
Lawrence encourages producers to reach out to local NRCS offices, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) or VCE for assistance in adapting soil management systems to improve soil function. Producers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore can contact Templeton at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 757-302-4435 to start a conversation.