Soil is essential to supporting human life on Earth. Thousands of years of conventional farming, ranching and land practices have reduced carbon levels in the soil. Carbon is the primary and essential productive component of topsoil. Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years from human activities.
In the Midwest, AFT works with family farmers and conservation partners to protect and restore the health and productivity of this vital natural resource. We encourage farmers to adopt practices that increase the soil's organic matter, making it more productive and resilient.
"How we treat our soil – our foundation for sustenance – is fundamental to the survival of our civilization."
A Conservation Cropping System is a suite of practices that work synergistically to replenish soil life and restore organic matter to agricultural soils. Over time these improvements increase nutrient efficiency and farm profitability, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions.
Common practices include:
Conservation tillage: The management practice of disrupting the soil as little as possible. Traditionally, American farmers plowed their fields every year in the fall and tilled the soil in the spring to control weeds and prepare the land for planting. Now we know that these practices break down soil structure and disturb beneficial soil organisms, making land more susceptible to erosion. Today many farmers successfully manage with less tillage.
Planting of cover crops: To cover the soil and keep living roots in the ground between the seasonal commodity crops. Cover crops nourish the soil, prevent soil erosion, and crowd out weeds after the commodity crop harvest and before spring planting.
Nutrient management: To feed growing crops as efficiently as possible to keep unused nutrients out of streams, rivers and water supplies.
We recognize that each farm and piece of land is unique, and that not every practice suits every field. With this in mind, we’ve created four Conservation Cropping Systems “recipes” to provide the starting steps for four typical farming operations in the corn belt. These recipes enable a farmer to begin incorporating soil health management practices into the farming operation with low risk. If farmers implement these strategies on just a portion of their farms, they can learn by doing, and over time develop a CCS that works for their farm on all acres.