Over time, you may have to get used to the phrases "soil health" and "never-till." Soil scientists and conservation officials are using those terms more frequently these days.
In fact, the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska has started a new campaign on the concept of soil health. "It is a way to call attention to the care and maintenance of our soil resource as the most critical component to protect food security and our ability to produce food and fiber for our country and the world," explains Craig Derickson, state NRCS conservationist in Nebraska.
The focus of the soil health campaign, according to Shaun Vickers in the state NRCS office, is never-till (as opposed to the common term of no-till), cover crops and nutrient management.
Vickers says that the attitude toward cover crops in changing in Nebraska. "They are being used more and gaining acceptance."
In fact, cover crops were aerially seeded over some of the flooded cropland along the Missouri River last year that won't be planted to crops in 2012.
Nebraska in 2006 formed an informal group, called the No-till Cadre, which consists of NRCS field personnel and University of Nebraska Extension staff. The cadre's objective was to promote no-till adoption across the state. Now, according to the NRCS' Vickers, the name has been changed to the Agronomic and Soil Health Committee and its new focus will be training and implementing "never-till," soil health, cropping systems, cover crops and water quality with conservation partnerships in Nebraska.
Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska engineer and no-till research and advocate, says farmers and others will continue using no-till out of familiarity with the term. "It won't die as a term very soon," he adds.
But, he adds, conferences and meetings in recent months have topics related to soil health and water conservation.
Of course, soil health is created in part due to leaving residue on the soil surface and not tilling the soil.
Microorganisms like bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes live in soils, along with plant roots, nutrients, earthworms, insects and other critters. Many of those microorganisms break down crop residues. And they feed off residues and plant roots.
The more crop residue from not tilling the soil, the more microorganisms. And the more robust and diverse this biological life, the better the soil quality.