Soil Health Information

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Farming for Healthy Soil 
Healthy, productive soil has always been a farmer's greatest asset. So why is soil health suddenly making headlines? In recent years, many farmers have discovered that the conservation practices they use to control erosion, manage manure, and protect water quality provide an unexpected bonus over timean increase in soil organic matter along with corresponding improvements to the soil's overall health and productivity.  

Soil scientists have long known that building ​soil organic matter helps all soilseven worn out degraded soilsstore nutrients, soak up water, resist erosion and increase the number and biodiversity of beneficial organisms that make the soil more productive.

Soil Health Matters
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. 

Maryland's Healthy Soils Program
Recognizing the importance of soil health, Governor Larry Hogan signed legislation in 2017 establishing Maryland's Healthy Soils Program. The legislation establishes MDA 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
The program will encourage farmers who want to explore new technologies and farming techniques that promote soil health and its corresponding environmental benefits. Read House Bill 1063 here. 

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 Health Card here. You can also watch a video tutorial.

Take Steps to Build Healthy Soil NOW:
Here are four steps that you can take to build healthy soils in your fields.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Rotate crops to increase biodiversity. Crop rotation helps return nutrients to the soil, interrupts pest and disease cycles, while increasing fertility and crop yields. 
  4. 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. 
Healthy Soil Has Many Potential BenefitsOn and Off the Farm
  • ​Improves soil structure and infiltration ability
  • Increases plant nutrient uptake
  • Sequesters carbon
  • Diversifies soil microbes
  • Reduces weeds and pests
  • Protects against too much or too little rain

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 pl​anted 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 here
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Contact Information

Alisha Mulkey, Program Manager
Program Planning & Development
Office of Resource Conservation
alisha.mulkey@maryland.gov
410-841-5863

Office Address
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401

Soil Health Advisory Committee        NEW: Membership Roster​​

The Soil Health Advisory Committee will meet Monday, December 2, at 9:30 a.m. For details click here.


Meet Maryland's Soil Health Champions

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