What's Up at the USDA Office?

Upcoming Deadlines/Dates
February 28: CRP General Signup
March 15: 2019 ARCPLC Election
June 30: 2020 ARCPLC Election
September 30: PLC Yield Update

Stop in Soon to Sign Up for the 2019 and 2020 ARCPLC Program
Producers now can enroll in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for the 2019 and 2020 crop year. ARC provides income support payments on historical base acres when actual crop revenue declines below a specified guaranteed level. PLC provides income support payments on historical base acres when the effective price for a covered commodity falls below its reference price. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized and updated both programs.

Signup for the 2019 crop year closes March 15, 2020, while signup for the 2020 crop year closes June 30, 2020. Producers who have not yet enrolled for 2019 can enroll for both 2019 and 2020 during the same visit to an FSA county office. 

What is Healthy Soil?
LuAnn Rolling, District Conservationist, Allamakee County
What is soil?  It is the first, thinnest layer of the earth’s surface.  But what do we truly know about the soil? As the earth’s population grows and the demand for food grows there is a new sense of urgency to expand our understanding of soil and our connection to it.

Soil needs to be understood as arguably the most important support network for human civilization on earth.  We would not exist if healthy soil was not present and did not contain healthy populations of microbes including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, and viruses.

Soil is not “dirt”. Dirt is sterile and made up of minerals like clay, silt, sand and at best a small amount of organic matter as well as disease pathogens and anaerobic bacteria. Soil is a living, dynamic, constantly growing, complex ecosystem that contains billions of soil microbes per teaspoon. In addition to water and oxygen, soil is required for humans to live on earth.

Soil may appear lifeless without magnification. Under a microscope soil comes to life with a vast diversity of micro-organisms.

Soil has a lot less life in a typical urban yard or in many agricultural fields that have had years of application of commercial fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. What these have done is reduced the amount and complexity of life in the soil.  These soils have poor water infiltration so during the heavy rainfalls that we have recently been receiving much of the water runs off, often carrying soil and any attached nutrients and pesticides with it.

As soil degrades it becomes more compacted.  Compacted soil inhibits root growth but a lack of oxygen is the bigger issue. As soil compacts the oxygen particles are squeezed out, killing the beneficial organisms that require oxygen for survival. It was long believed that tillage was the answer for correcting compacted soil. We now know that tillage does vastly more harm than good. Tillage makes compaction below the tillage depth worse. Tilling also breaks up the existing microscopic pathways built by the organisms to deliver food, water, nutrients and oxygen to the organisms and ultimately to the plant root. Tillage destroys about 50% of the organisms present in the soil.

Lack of compaction is important to soils because soil microorganisms hold nutrients so they can be available when plants need them. Synthetic nutrients (commercial fertilizers) are engineered to be absorbed by plant roots in a soluble form. Any nutrients that are not absorbed are leached away. In a healthy system organic nutrients are sustained in the soil and remain available throughout the growing season.

All the microorganisms which exist in our soil need to work together to create healthy plant life. The benefits of the microscopic life in our soil are far reaching, with facets yet to be fully understood.  One thing, however, is certain – there is much more to healthy soil than is fully appreciated.

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