Soil health is crucial to the health of our water, air and food supply. Healthy soil has the potential to store vast quantities of water and carbon.
Farms can help reduce global climate change through carbon sequestration. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 33% of soil is moderately to highly degraded. Dairy farmers are turning this around through innovative practices to improve soil health and prevent soil from eroding in agriculture.
One environmentally-friendly practice is planting cover crops. After farmers harvest their main crop, like corn, in the fall – they plant cover crops that grow through the winter on the same field. Winter cover crops include plant species like winter cereal rye, annual ryegrass, oats, clover, vetch and even radish and turnip. Those plants help the soil hold more water and create healthy living organic matter. Research has shown that every one percent increase in organic matter through using cover crops helps the soil to hold 25,000 gallons more water per acre. These fields suffer less drought stress and can handle heavy rainfall better than fields without a cover crop making them resilient to flooding.
Farmers are utilizing their land to its full potential to sequester carbon and feed soil biology when they have a plant on their fields 12 months of the year (instead of 5). In the spring, farmers remove the cover crop in an environmentally responsible and non-disruptive way, then plant their corn on the same field without tilling the soil using a no-till drill. The combination of cover crops and no-till builds soil health, grows healthy plants, protects soil and water resources, while cleaning the air we breathe.
Dairy is uniquely positioned to deliver societal benefits including improved soil health and water quality. More carbon is stored in the soil than in living plants and animals combined, and effective soil management could be a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change. In turn, the increased soil carbon enriches the soil, potentially increasing crop yields and enhancing food security.
A New England Food Vision calls for our region to reach a bold goal to build the capacity to produce at least 50% of our food by 2060 while supporting healthy food for all. How will we grow all that food? With the help of farmers and innovative practices to preserve and protect farmland. Farmers live on the land they farm. They understand the importance of protecting our natural resources.