While Jed Clampett became rich after striking “black gold” back in 1962, farmers are striking it rich now with another type of “black gold” – healthy soil. Although the classic TV show wasn’t referring to soil back in the day, it should have because healthy, nutrient-dense soil is the black gold of the farming community. The rich, organic matter that supports healthy root systems and keeps all of the microorganisms and earthworms happy results in bountiful crops without the worry of erosion or soil run-off.
The concept of soil health has been around for decades, but the terminology only became part of the farming and land management vernacular in the mid-1980s, according to Kim Kroll, Associate Director of USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
“The term really resonated well within the farming and science communities,” says Kroll, noting that, finally, there was a common phrase that incorporated specific sustainable agriculture practices that resulted in fertile soil and less erosion.
“Soil is a depletable resource,” says Jason Randall, an Indiana farmland landowner.
Randall owns a 150-acre farm in the Big Pine Watershed in Indiana – a region designated as a highly erodible area by the federal government. For Randall, adopting sustainable agriculture practices not only helps keep land healthy, but boosts the overall value of the farm where these practices are established. On the cusp of his third year of owning the Big Pine farmland, Randall is establishing measures to keep the resource where it needs to be through practices like planting cover crops.
“There is a responsibility in land ownership,” says Randall. “When we commit to doing a cover crop, that means that the farmer is doing extra work because he’s also managing the cash crop, whether it’s corn or something else.”
Soil health is a practice that both landowners and farmers can agree on. Better soil improves the land’s economic output and soil improvement can often be seen after only a handful of seasons. By focusing on increasing soil health, farmers and landowners often see better crop yields, enhanced water quality and better drought resistance. Fostering good soil can also increase carbon sequestration and provide a healthy pollinator habitat, which is beneficial to both the crops grown as well as other native flora critical for a healthy habitat.What's the Value of Your Land?