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5 Priorities Of Soil Health Management: Priority 1 - Eliminate Erosion

A person on a motor vehicle driving over rolling hills of a terminate corn crop field. A forest borders the field in the background.
Collecting soil samples from a corn field at Fitzgerald Farms. Photo courtesy of Lydia Fitzgerald.

 

What do the four core principles of soil health management look like in your field, yard, garden, or forest? It depends on what the soil needs.


We can explore what the soil needs by testing the soil. We can also use the five priorities of soil health management, outlined by Chris Lawerence of Virginia USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to guide our practical steps toward building healthier soils.


If your priority is to eliminate erosion, then consider what is causing the soil to erode. 


“Don’t try and address the symptom. Try and address the problem," said Jon Sitka of UnderstandingAg in Episode 22-25 of 4 The Soil: A Conversation.


Erosion happens when the soil is overexposed to sunlight, wind, and water. If overexposure is a factor, keeping the soil covered can help protect it from the elements. Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NCSWCD) of Fairfax County offers ideas to address erosion, including keeping the soil covered with mulch and vegetation. It may take trial and error to decide how much cover is needed and what type of cover is needed. 


A young soybean field with straw covering the soil.
A young soybean field with straw covering the soil. Photo by Clare Tallamy on Unsplash.

Along with exposure, erosion can accelerate when soil is repeatedly tilled or moved. According to Roanoke County, which offers the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook, land-disturbing activities are "responsible for 70% of all erosion," while the other 30% occurs naturally. Using techniques to minimize soil disturbance can help keep the soil in place. Resources from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Center (SARE) can help producers explore how no-till practices and planting cover crops can benefit both the land and their business.  


NCSWCD also notes that maximizing living roots can help protect against erosion. In particular, native species grow long-reaching roots that help keep the soil in place. Growing a mix of native species or rotating crops helps build resiliency in the soil's biology and structure, which energizes the soil with diversity.


If you are unsure how to build soil health, the Virginia USDA-NRCS outlined 5 key priorities to help guide soil health management systems. These priorities can help you clarify your targets and measurable outcomes as you implement the four core principles. 


A person stands and looks out to a rolling field wearing a yellow t-shirt with the text "Keenbell Farm".
Taking in the view of the rolling hills on Keenbell Farm in Virginia.

 

Cited Resources


Explanation of Soil Tests (2018), Virginia Cooperative Extension, https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/452/452-701/452-701.html 


Erosion & Sediment Control, Roanoke County Virginia


Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations: No-Till: SARE Outreach (2015), Andy Clark,


Stop Erosion - Solving Drainage and Erosion Problems, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Fairfax County,


Additional Resources


Agronomy Handbook 2023, Virginia Cooperative Extension


A Soil Owner's Manual: How to Restore and Maintain Soil Health (2016), Jon Stika and illustrated by Eve Stika,


Soil is Alive! (2022), Jon Stika, illustrated by Eve Stika https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2022-10/Soil%20is%20Alive_0.pdf 

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