Best Practices



Managing for Soil Carbon: An Introduction

This video for farmers describes the basics of soil organic carbon: what it is, how it benefits farmers, and how to increase it.

SOURCE: Soil Health Institute

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Four Strategies to Improve Your Field’s Soil Health

How do you start improving soil health? This short overview provides a proven path as you consider your priorities.

SOURCE: Purdue Extension

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A Strategy to Improve Soil Health in a Midwest Corn-Soybean Cropping System

An approach for a corn-soybean farmer to start no till that limits downside risk and yet jump starts soil health.

SOURCE: USDA-NRCS, Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative

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No Tillage Cropping Systems Fact Sheet

This quick summary outlines basic no-till benefits.


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Soil Health: Physical Properties of Soil

Soil health is dependent on the physical, biological and chemical properties of soil. This video will explore some of the characteristics related to the physical properties of soil.

SOURCE: Penn State Extension

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The Science of Soil Health: What Happens When You Till?

When we use tillage, the soil ecosystem is disturbed on a massive scale. Purdue’s Dr. Eileen Kladivko contrasts natural ecosystems with tilled systems and describes what we stand to lose when soils are tilled.

SOURCE: Penn State Extension

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Cover Crops Lease Insertion

Use this sample Cover Crop Lease Insertion to work with your farm operator and/or farm manager to incorporate cover crops into your lease.

SOURCE: The Nature Conservancy

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2016-2017 Cover Crop Survey

The survey of 2,012 farmers showed acreage planted in cover crops has nearly doubled during the past five years, with 88 percent of the farmers using cover crops. The survey reported yield increases in corn, soybeans and wheat following cover crops.

SOURCE: Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Agency (SARE) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) with some of their member companies.

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Annual Net Returns to Cover Crops in Iowa

A series of partial budgets based on a statewide survey of Iowa farmers to evaluate the changes in net returns resulting from the incorporation of cover crops into a corn or soybean production system.

SOURCE: Journal of Applied Farm Economics

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Cover Crop Plant Guides

Connect to the USDA-NRCS cover crops and soil health information on the web, which includes cover crop guides.


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Ten Ways Cover Crops Enhance Soil Health

While soil testing has focused more on chemical and physical properties, new research indicates biology of the soil is important to its overall health and productivity. Cover crops keep the soil covered and provide living roots in the soil throughout the year. Even modest use of cover crops often makes a big difference for soil health over time.

SOURCE:  USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Agency (SARE), supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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Managing Cover Crops Profitably

Published in 2007, this guide can be used in conjunction with other information on farm management to develop a reasonable cover crops strategy.

SOURCE: Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, USDA, University of Maryland and University of Vermont.

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Cover Crops: Best Management Practices

This introductory overview of cover crop production includes questions you should ask as you begin to plan and provides a summary of options.

SOURCE: Farm Progress

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Cover Crop Planting Specification Guide

With its cover crop selection guide table on pages 7 and 8, this is a quick field-by-field problem-solving resource.


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MCCC Cover Crop Decision Tools

The Midwest Cover Crop Council (MCCC) Cover Crop Decision Tools are web-based systems to assist farmers in selecting cover crops to include in field crop and vegetable rotations.

SOURCE: Midwest Cover Crop Council

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Time to Plant Fall Cover Crops

This practical guide for Pennsylvania producers highlights cover crop species, recommended planting times, and seeding rates.

SOURCE: Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences – Research and Extension Programs

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Selecting and Using Cover Crops

Overview of cover crops lectures on benefits, nitrogen, seed drill calibration, and other considerations.

SOURCE: UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems

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Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide

This guide will help growers select, grow, and use cover crops.

SOURCE: Purdue Extension

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How to Select a Cover Crop or Cover Crop Mix

This summary of cover crop selection will be helpful for producers who want a quick guide with no-nonsense information in order to solve a specific field challenge.

SOURCE: North Dakota State University

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Yield stability analysis reveals sources of large-scale nitrogen loss from the US Midwest

Research from Michigan State University quantifies the importance of nitrogen loss from low-producing areas of individual fields. The study’s good news is that farmers can pinpoint exactly which spots in their fields produce stable yields as well as which areas are inconsistent. By concentrating on those, farmers can save money, reduce fertilizer loss, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. ​

SOURCE: Michigan State University

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Improving Water Quality Through Soil Health

According to EPA, more than 70% of the United States’ rivers and streams are in fair or poor biological condition. Recurring events, such as harmful algal blooms in Western Lake Erie and the “hypoxic zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, have drawn public attention to nutrient runoff from agriculture as a contributing source of water quality degradation.


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Soil Health Institute Announces Literature and Review of Information
Relating Soil Health to Use of Animal Manures and Municipal Biosolids

The Manure and Soil Health (MaSH) Working Group grant recipients summarize existing information related to the role of manure in promoting soil health.

SOURCE: MaSH Working Group.

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Crop and Fertilizer Management Practices to Minimize Nitrate Leaching

This recap of nitrogen fertilizer and crop management practices helps producers minimize nitrate leaching, benefit crop production and protect groundwater quality.

SOURCE: Montana State University Extension

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Soil Management and Health: Soil Compaction

Compacted soil reduces water infiltration and can reduce yield. Farmers can take steps to improve soil structure.

SOURCE: University of Minnesota Extension

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Four Farmers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin Talk About the Impact of Soil Health Practices

Newly released research conducted by NACD and Datu Research found that corn and soybean farmers who use cover crops and/or no-till can improve their bottom lines by over $100 per acre.

SOURCE: National Association of Conservation Districts

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Gaining Ground: Successful no-till farmers tell their stories

More and more farmers all across Virginia are making the switch to soil building continuous no-till systems. These farmers are cutting costs and saving time by planting all of their crops, year in and year out, without tillage. They are also maximizing the soil benefits that come with less disturbance by adding in cover crops, crop rotation, and other practices. As diverse as they are, one thing these farmers all have in common, they tell us they are gaining ground.

SOURCE: Gaining Ground Virginia

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Experiments with No-Till Cover Crops at Potomac Vegetable Farms

In the past, “ecoganic” farmer Ellen Polishuk would tune out when she heard the words “no-till,” thinking it had nothing to do with her biological vegetable farm. In this video, Ellen explains how she is now trying to save time and further enhance her organic soil management system by seeding cover crops without tillage. Be sure to watch the associated profile video that provides an overview of Ellen’s soil management strategy, as well as the other technical clips with details about her soil-enhancing practices.


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