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5 Priorities of Soil Health Management: Introduction

"4 The Soil" focuses on the four core principles of soil health management: keep the soil covered, minimize disturbance, maximize living roots, and energize with diversity.

The four principles are meant to start the conversation. “Keep the soil covered” will look different farm to farm, field to field, garden to garden.

So what do these principles look like in your world?

We can look at the five priorities of soil health, outlined by Chris Lawerence of Virginia-Natural Resources Conservation Service, to help us explore the possibilities.

  1. Eliminate erosion

  2. Match land use to landscape

  3. Build soil organic matter

  4. Build soil biology

  5. Systems, not shortcuts

For example, say you want to maximize living roots in your soil. We can use the five principles to help contextualize and specify what might work well. Do you have erosion issues where plants might have a hard time growing, or areas where plants could help eliminate the erosion? What species would make sense on your land? And so on.

Some actions we take can help fulfill multiple priorities and principles. For instance, planting a mixture of cover crops. Along with protecting the soil from erosion, cover crops help build soil biology while living, and then add organic matter to the soil once terminated.

Cover Crop Coach Steve Groff touched on the priority of “systems, not shortcuts” during our conversation on episode 22-19. “I caution farmers that with soil health you cannot look at an annual basis like we are used to doing with everything else in agriculture. You have to look at it as a ten year plan: ‘Can I make this work? What is my strategy for ten years?’ …You have to think bigger than one year, and I think that is important for people to understand if you are looking to jump in this regenerative agriculture movement. It’s a long-term commitment.”

Soil health management practices are difficult to condense into four short principles. Thinking about the five priorities helps us explore the practical steps to help build soil health where we live, play, and work.

Join us as we explore the 5 priorities of soil health management through the upcoming blog series!

Do you already practice the principles, priorities, and/or advocate for soil health? Take the pledge and show how the movement is growing!

Crimson clover cover crop field under a cloudy sky.
Crimson clover cover crop on Valley View Farms in Virginia.

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