Farmer plowing crops

Heavy rain can wash topsoil off farm fields. Droughts can leave crops withering in the sun. But improving soil health can help farmers adapt to extreme weather.

Healthy soil absorbs and holds more water, so farms can better withstand droughts and floods. Jennifer Moore-Kucera of the American Farmland Trust says healthy soil also stores more carbon, which helps slow global warming.

“What’s really encouraging is that there’s a whole array – a whole suite – of soil health practices that can contribute,” she says.

Those range from planting cover crops to minimizing tilling. But making these changes costs money, so many growers hesitate to switch practices.

Recent research may encourage them. The American Farmland Trust analyzed the costs and benefits of improving soil health on eight farms.

The researchers looked at crop growers in Illinois, Ohio, and New York, and almond orchards in California. They found that after making changes, all eight farms had less soil and water runoff and better yields. On average, the farms got more than $3 back for every dollar invested in soil health.

“These case studies are really highlighting what can be achieved not only environmentally but economically, which is critical for the farmer,” Moore-Kucera says.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.