Promoting Soil Health Through Cover Crop Implementation

Farmer Scientists
Project Overview

In this project, our sponsors, the USDA-NRCS’s East National Technology Service Center, asked us to recount our soil health story in South Carolina.  As we all know, the soil health movement is really a grassroots thing driven by farmers and this story is no different.  Our South Carolina soil health adventure began with a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) that was awarded to the Richland Conservation District, who partnered with us and 5 farmers in Dillon, Marlboro and Richland Counties, SC.

In the Farmer Scientists project, we discuss the beginnings, the CIG, and some of the results we found. The emphasis of this story, however, is what actually happened to the five farmers who participated in these CIG’s, and how, as they saw the benefits of soil health first hand, they began to implement additional changes on their farms themselves. We coined a phrase early on in the project that “research begets research”, and you’ll see the farmers spend a good deal of time discussing other research that was born out of the questions posed from the original CIG. Watch as these farmers discover that this questioning has made them more than farmers, and something akin to scientists.

A Journey of Innovation in Soil Health: Over 30 Years of Farming Transformed

This video showcases the transformative journey of seasoned farmers who, after over 30 years in agriculture, embrace innovative soil health practices through a project supported by the USDA's NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs). It highlights their shift from traditional farming to a focus on regenerative practices, particularly the use of diverse cover crops. Key insights include improved soil health, reduced reliance on chemical inputs, and economic benefits from sustainable practices. This story is not just about farming, but a testimony to the power of innovation, sustainability, and the positive impacts of caring for the soil.

"Five years of research, farming, harvesting, measuring, and more research condensed down to 23 minutes. Incredible results and so perfectly presented. The longer I watched the more amazed I was, and so grateful you produced this information to be shared."

Tyler Ehrlich


Farmer Scientists FAQs

Find answers to common questions about our project.

What are Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) and how do they support sustainable farming?

Conservation Innovation Grants, provided by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), are designed to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. These grants support projects that demonstrate promising new techniques and practices in conservation, particularly those that enhance environmental health and productivity of agricultural lands. In sustainable farming, CIGs help farmers implement novel practices that improve soil health, reduce reliance on chemical inputs, and promote overall ecosystem sustainability.

How do cover crops contribute to soil health and sustainable agriculture?

Cover crops play a critical role in enhancing soil health by preventing soil erosion, improving soil structure, and increasing nutrient availability. They help in building organic matter, which improves soil fertility and water retention. In sustainable agriculture, cover crops serve as a natural way to suppress weeds, reduce the need for herbicides, and break disease and pest cycles. Their deep roots can also help in accessing nutrients and water from deeper soil layers, benefiting subsequent crops.

What are the economic benefits of adopting regenerative soil health practices for farmers?

Adopting regenerative soil health practices, such as using cover crops, minimal tillage, and diverse crop rotations, can lead to significant economic benefits for farmers. These include reduced costs on inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and lime due to improved soil fertility and natural pest control. There's also potential for higher yields and better crop quality due to healthier soils. Over time, these practices can lead to more resilient farming systems capable of withstanding extreme weather, thus safeguarding farmers' incomes.

How can long-term traditional farmers transition to regenerative soil health practices?

The transition from traditional to regenerative farming practices involves a shift in mindset and farming techniques. It starts with education and exposure to successful examples of regenerative practices. Farmers can begin by introducing cover crops, gradually moving towards reduced tillage and diversifying crop rotations. Seeking guidance from agricultural extension services, participating in local workshops, and networking with other farmers who have successfully adopted these practices can provide valuable support. Trial and error on a small scale can also help farmers understand what works best for their specific conditions.

What impact has the shift to soil health-focused practices had on crop yields and farm productivity?

The shift to soil health-focused practices often results in more consistent and mostly higher crop yields due to improved soil structure, fertility, and water retention. Healthier soils can support stronger and more resilient plants, leading to better yields even under challenging weather conditions. While the initial transition period may involve a learning curve and some adjustment in practices, the long-term effect generally includes increased farm productivity and sustainability, along with environmental benefits.

Still have questions?

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