Maryland's Healthy Soils Program
Healthy, productive soil has always been a farmer's greatest asset. Recognizing the importance of soil health, Governor Larry Hogan signed legislation in 2017 establishing Maryland's Healthy Soils Program. The legislation establishes the Maryland Department of Agriculture as the state lead on healthy soils. It charges the department to develop a program to:
- Improve health, yield, and profitability of soils
- Increase biological activity and carbon sequestration in agricultural soils
- Promote further education and adoption of healthy soil practices
- Read House Bill 1063 here.
Promoting Soil Health
Maryland's Healthy Soils Program supports farmers who want to explore new technologies and farming techniques that promote soil health and its corresponding environmental benefits. To accomplish these goals, the Department has launched several exciting initiatives:
Soil Health Matters
Soil scientists have long known that building soil organic matter helps all soils—even worn out degraded soils—store nutrients, soak up water, resist erosion and increase the number and biodiversity of beneficial organisms that make the soil more productive.
The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines soil health as "the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans." This definition highlights the importance of managing soils as a living resource so that they are sustainable for future generations.
How Do I Know if my Soil is Healthy?
NRCS has developed a Soil Health Card that farmers and land managers can use to evaluate the health of their soil. When used over time, this tool can identify changes in soil health that are affected by the way the land is managed. The card lists soil health indicators that can be assessed without technical or laboratory equipment. Get the Maryland Soil Health Card
Take Steps to Build Healthy Soil
Here are four steps that you can take to build healthy soils in your fields.
Keep the soil covered. Include cover crops in your rotation to protect against erosion, improve biodiversity, add organic matter to the soil, and reduce compaction.
Disturb the soil as little as possible. Use no-till or reduced tillage farming practices instead of plowing to reduce erosion, increase residue cover, and build organic matter.
Rotate crops to increase biodiversity. Crop rotation helps return nutrients to the soil, interrupts pest and disease cycles, while increasing fertility and crop yields.
Keep a living root throughout the year. Include a cover crop in your rotation or establish perennial grasses to provide food for organisms that live in the soil.
Maryland Farmers Are Leaders
Maryland is a small state in terms of land area, but our farmers are big on using conservation practices that build healthy soils and protect water quality. In its most recent
soil health census report, the National Soil Institute rated Maryland farmers:
#1 in the percent of available cropland planted to cover crops
#2 in the use of no-till practices
Soil Health Champions
Soil Health Champions play an important role in educating other farmers on the importance of using practices that build healthy soils. Established by the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts (NACD), the Network is comprised of more than 240 landowners and operators across the country who use conservation practices on their land and champion the benefits of soil health within their communities. Here in Maryland, NACD has recognized five soil health champions. Read their stories