Soil Survey, Then and Now

As the Dust Bowl blew away thousands of tons of topsoil, NRCS founder Hugh Hammond Bennett recognized that the first step to protecting a resource is to know what you have. Until then, there was no comprehensive record of soil’s properties or its erosion. From that realization and Bennett’s further efforts, soil survey was born.

Then. The initial survey teams mapped and inventoried soil across the country, mostly for agricultural uses. By knowing the type and quality of soil, conservationists could recommend best uses and conservation practices.

Now. Soil survey data is used by farmers and also by many others. This data informs land managers, city planners and climate scientists. Access to web soil survey is conveniently available via a smartphone app.

Soil scientists have already mapped more than 95 percent of the contiguous United States and the inventory will soon be complete.

Visit NRCS’ Web Soil Survey.

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Fire only makes longleaf pine forests grow stronger.

Prescribed burning is one of the conservation techniques helping to restore the longleaf pine. When the smoke clears, a more robust ecosystem appears. Prescribed burning:

  • Controls undesirable vegetation;
  • Prepares sites for seeding and planting;
  • Reduces pests and disease;
  • Improves wildlife habitat;
  • Removes debris;
  • Enhances seed production;
  • And more.

Over the past few centuries, longleaf pine forests have lost 97% of their original 90 million acres. Fortunately, those losses have recently been halted and reversed. 

America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (ALRI) marks its five-year anniversary today. This broad partnership - which includes many private and state entities, as well as the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service and Farm Service Agency; and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - stands shoulder-to-shoulder to protect and restore the longleaf pine.

Through its Longleaf Pine Initiative, NRCS has worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, awarding 15 grants totaling about $3.38 million for projects in the longleaf pine range that will restore 11,800 acres and improve 116,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat.

By continuing to be good stewards, longleaf pine forests will be available long into the future.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

A Natural Wonder

America’s longleaf pine forests once covered 90 million acres, spanning from Virginia to Texas. But as of 2010, only 3 percent - or 3.4 million acres - remained.

In the wake of a growing concern, NRCS created the Longleaf Pine Initiative to help restore this national treasure. Working with partners and private landowners, we are on track to increase the size of forests from 3.4 million to 8 million acres by 2025. This enlarged habitat is especially good news for the 29 endangered and threatened species that call the longleaf home.

By continuing to be good stewards of our resources, these forests will be available long into the future.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

An Ounce of Prevention…

Dams are critical infrastructure, supplying water to communities and protecting them from flooding. Like all infrastructure, regular maintenance ensures they will continue to function properly.

Today NRCS pledged $262 million to the rehabilitation and maintenance of 150 aging dams across the nation.

“These funds will go a long way towards improving the safety and continued benefits provided by these watershed structures,” NRCS Chief Weller said.

We will work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities and agriculture.”

Learn more at our Watershed Rehabilitation page.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Smarter, Not Harder

Take care of your soil and Nature will work for you.

For example, earthworms are a hallmark of healthy soil. They are busy enriching soil, digging channels through which water can flow. This allows water to infiltrate deeply, and is just one of the reasons why healthy soil is able to retain water and resist drought.

Visit our YouTube playlist to learn more about The Science of Soil Health

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Rise Above the Flood with No-Till

Conservation not only buffers against drought, it also protects from flash flooding. 

Two neighbors in South Dakota both farm. One uses no-till, the other uses conventional tillage. When heavy rains fell last month, the farmer who uses conventional tillage lost tons of topsoil and suffered flooding on his fields. The farmer who uses no-till weathered the storm just fine.

No matter what your resource concerns are, conservation will help.

For information about soils, help transitioning to a conservation cropping systems or technical assistance for other conservation practices, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted

Visit the “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" web page.

Photos by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service South Dakota.

Drainage Water Management 

This practice allows farmers to control how much water drains off their land. Benefits include:

  • Increased yields;
  • Water conservation;
  • Reduced nutrient loss; and
  • Improved water quality.

Conservation makes your land more productive, healthy and environmentally friendly.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Carry on the Tradition

In the past, it was customary for people to have a household garden. But with time, this practice faded.

Millie Titla and her 13-year-old nephew, Noah, want to help bring the tradition back to life.  To do so, they are starting with their local Apache community. Their goal is to help people appreciate what gardens can provide for their families.

“Gardening has been a part of the Apache culture for thousands of years, and we’ve lost the traditional way of gardening throughout the century,” said Millie, who works for NRCS as a district conservationist.

With his aunt as his mentor, Noah’s passion gardening with tribal traditions has increased awareness of the benefits and availability of fresh food on the southeastern Arizona reservation.

“I didn’t know that such a small community could grow such a good amount of crops,” Noah said about his 4-H club’s community garden. Club members share the harvested food with their friends and families.

Through hard work, Noah is making a difference in a state where USDA is targeting assistance through the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. Read more here.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Weather Drought with Conservation

Did you know healthy soil remains productive during drought? But to achieve healthy soil, conservation is key - helping you retain water and resist desiccation.  

NRCS has resources for drought preparation and relief:

  • Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP): NRCS will customize a conservation plan to make your soil drought-resistant. Cover crops, no-till and crop rotation are a few of the practices for which we provide technical and financial assistance.
  • Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP): NRCS can help communities reseed drought-stricken areas that might be prone to erosion.
  • The National Water and Climate Center (NWCC): this Center monitors snowpack and forecasts water supply for Western states. The staff serves as technical specialists on issues of drought, soil moisture and climate change.
  • The Drought Calculatordeveloped to help ranchers assess the impacts of drought on forage production and make informed decisions for drought strategies.

Additional resources are available at USDA Disaster and Drought and the Drought Monitor.

Whether you want to prepare for potential drought or you need immediate relief, we’re here to help.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

That Old-Time Conservation

This Thursday we throwback to the 1930’s, when our agency was in its youth. Originally formed in the wake of the Dust Bowl to prevent further soil erosion, our conservation mission has expanded to protect air and water quality, wildlife habitat and much more.

Conservation is Timeless

In modern times we face many environmental challenges: conservation holds the answer to them all. Let us help you help the land.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Big Solutions for Big Challenges

The Gulf of Mexico is a huge area, encompassing more than 290 million acres across five states. Much of the area is delicate ecosystem, supporting industry, recreation and wildlife. 

Comprehensive Conservation

NRCS is working with landowners to restore and protect the Gulf with this five step strategy:

  1. Expand NRCS’ Gulf of Mexico Initiative to restore the health of major rivers in all five Gulf states. 
  2. Increase investments to restore and protect coastal Gulf of Mexico. 
  3. Expand NRCS’ Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative in the lower Mississippi River delta and along all five Gulf Coast states. 
  4. Launch an NRCS “Room for the River” project to restore the Mississippi River’s floodplain. 
  5. Expand NRCS’ Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative in the lower and upper basin states to improve water quality and quantity, and help address the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. 

To learn more about our plans to restore and protect the Gulf region, click here.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Do you dream about preventing erosion? Could you improve the water quality of an entire watershed, given the chance? 

Let us help.

Conservation is science-based, and science is always improving. We encourage that progress by awarding annual conservation innovation grants to applicants with the most promising ideas.

If you have an idea but need help testing it, see if our CIG program is a good fit for you. Funding is available at the national and state levels.

How to improve the health of your soil in four easy steps:

1. Minimize soil disturbance. The soil’s natural biological cycles and soil structure can be disrupted through tillage, chemical disturbance or improper livestock grazing. By reducing or eliminating these activities, farmers will benefit from better plant growth, reduced soil erosion, increased profit margins and better wildlife habitat.

2. Energize with diversity. Biodiversity, growing more plants in rotation, increases the success of most agricultural systems. Diversity above ground improves diversity below ground, which provides an ideal habitat for the billions of micro-organisms that perform essential soil ecosystem functions like helping make nutrients available to plants.

3. Keep the soil covered. Using cover crops helps restore soil health, protects against soil erosion and groundwater leaching, and provides livestock feed and wildlife habitat. In addition, cover crops protect the soil ecosystem from temperature extremes and improve plant health.

4. Maximize living roots. Year-round, living roots are essential to provide the food and habitat for soil micro-organisms. These roots also create pores and channels in the soil that provide oxygen and increase water infiltration capacity — which helps makes cropland more resilient to weather extremes like droughts and floods.

Want to Unlock more Secrets in the Soil? Go here.