Initiative encourages Virginians to commit to soil conservation

Published 12:43 pm Friday, June 25, 2021

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To raise awareness about the importance of soil health, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition is launching the 4 the Soil Awareness Initiative in partnership with Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Soil is a fundamental element of all food production, and conserving soil health is crucial to sustaining the food supply for a growing global population. Because of that, the initiative encourages Virginia farmers and landowners to adopt four principles: keep soil covered, minimize soil disturbance, maximize living roots; and energize with diversity.

The project will kick off June 23 in conjunction with National Soil Health Day.

“The really neat thing about the initiative is that it has a lot of pieces and potential audiences,” Virginia Soil Health Coalition coordinator Mary Sketch said. “Right now, it’s targeting soil managers and all of the ways that looks—farmers, technical assistance providers, landowners in general or master gardeners. Meeting those people where they are, and using the initiative to educate and raise awareness, creates a large umbrella that really pulls everyone together.”

Sketch noted the core principles are easily understood by most people, which helps create common ground between landowners and farmers in respect to conservation practices. That common ground, she added, can help raise further awareness and amplify “the great work already happening across Virginia by farmers and practitioners.”

The 4 the Soil Awareness Initiative also will highlight the land stewardship efforts of Virginia farmers through its website and digital media throughout the campaign. Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group, is one of several organizations supporting the initiative’s mission.

“Farmers have been implementing various soil health conservation practices on their farms for many years,” said Martha Moore, VFBF vice president of governmental relations. “The value of this coalition is that it helps landowners and the public understand the value of those practices, and helps expand research to improve those soil health practices already in place.”

Grayson County beef producer Danny Boyer said it’s crucial for all farmers to understand the needs of the soil.

Rather than solely focusing on maintaining nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels, he said, farmers also must monitor secondary nutrients and micronutrients, which support subterranean organisms that help maintain a nutrient-rich soil base.

“If you take care of the soil, then that’ll take care the forage, and that’ll take care of the cattle or livestock that are grazing on it, and then you have a healthier product,” Boyer said. “You’re doing something good for the resource base, for water quality, air quality, for aesthetics and on and on and on. It all starts with the soil.”