It is no secret to readers of this blog that the benefits of building soil health are far reaching. From gaining the ability to reduce fertilizer and pesticide inputs, reducing erosion and minimizing weather and disease risk, soil health benefits touch both the economic and environmental needs of growers.

According to a recent report Seeding Soil’s Potential by Wrangler in collaboration with the Soil Health Institute, three core practices – cover crops, crop rotation and conservation tillage – have the ability to add three times more organic matter to the soil, ultimately providing healthier soil that can provide economic and environmental benefits. Let’s explore each of these practices in depth.


Above graphic by Wrangler.

Cover Crops

According to data released by the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey, “only 1% of all cropland acreage uses cover crops [in the U.S.].” Yet, cover crops produce biomass and reduce erosion and nutrient loss.

Examples of cover crops include cereal grains, legumes and brassicas – each type of cover crops provides a unique benefit for the grower.

Cover Crop Examples

Above graphic by Wrangler.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is an approach for managing pests and diseases. Furthermore, planting diverse crops above the ground leads to a diverse microbial community below the ground.  This ultimately provides a more resilient soil for crops to grow. According to the USDA, “82 to 94% of most crops are grown in some sort of rotation in the U.S.”.

Conservation Tillage

According to an article published by the Washington Post, “plowing and tillage are major sources of soil erosion around the world – they were key factors behind the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.” Furthermore, tilling leads to nutrient loss and releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Conservation tillage includes two methods – no-till and strip till – the later method is a practice where the farmer only tills a narrow stirp of land for planting purposes.

In a 2009 report by USDA, about 35.5% of the country’s cropland had at least some no-tillage operations and 10% practiced full-time no tillage operations.