Author: Seamus Briody, Conservation Assistant 


Many of the farmland owners who work with Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature) recognize the term “sound agricultural practices” from its use in PLAN’s conservation easement language. There are a wide variety of perspectives from which to approach the concept but one of the most important and intriguing is soil health. Let’s take a closer look! 


What is soil health? 

Soil health is defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”. It is a complex arrangement of living and non-living factors relating to the physical structure and chemical composition of the soil. 


Why does it matter? 

It is vitally important from both an ecologist’s and a farmer’s perspective. An ecologist focuses on the functions healthy soil can provide for the surrounding environment, from regulating and filtering groundwater to cycling nutrients and providing a stable structure for plant and animal life. All these benefits then factor into what the farmer focuses on: improved soil health leading to richer harvests! Robust, nutrient-dense, and water-rich soil is a great tool for farmers to be successful in the short and long term. 


What can I do to keep my soil healthy? 

There are four main principles of soil health management:

  • Minimize Disturbance – Soil health is negatively impacted by outside disturbance, frequently caused by modern tilling techniques. No-till farming is a great solution to this; see the links provided below to learn more about how to implement this method! 
  • Maximize Biodiversity – Having a variety of plants and animals on the land is beneficial to soil health. 
  • Maximize Soil Cover – Keeping soil planted and covered for as much of the year as possible aids in nutrient cycling, water absorption, and erosion reduction, among other benefits. Cover cropping is another solution favored by many soil health-conscious farmers; check it out in the links below! 
  • Maximize Living Roots – Living roots also help to aid in nutrient cycling and provide shape and form for the soil – all good things for soil health. 


Where can I find more information? 

There are great soil health resources all around you! A great first step is reaching out to your local Natural Resource Conservation District office or Soil and Water Conservation District office. In the meantime, you can check out these helpful links below: