It’s often said that healthy soil is the foundation of regenerative agriculture. After all, healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy plants mean a strong food supply and a healthy planet.
R.D. Offutt Farms has nearly 60 years of experience managing soil health to reduce erosion, maximize water infiltration and improve nutrient cycling. Celebrating Earth Day, check out the top three ways we invest in soil health.
1. Rotating crops every four years
Anyone who farms or grows a vegetable garden knows it is important to rotate crops. Because R.D. Offutt Farms only grow potatoes, we work with other family farmers to trade land, so each field has a strong crop rotation. In fact, our farm managers trade land with nearly 90 farmers every year.
Crop rotation adds nutrients to the soil and interrupts pests and disease cycles associated with each crop. This investment is paying off. On average, we only plant potatoes once every four years, which has resulted in higher yields, allowing us to ultimately plant fewer acres at some farms while achieving the same production.
2. Increasing usage of organic fertilizer
For more than 30 years, turkey litter has been used as an organic fertilizer at our farm in Little Falls, Minn. Sourced locally, this natural fertilizer adds organic matter to the soil and improves water retention. Data shows fields treated with turkey litter are highly productive and require fewer commercial crop protectants.
During the past six growing seasons, we’ve tripled our use of organic fertilizer, and we are working with North Dakota State University to study turkey litter as a potential replacement for traditional fertilizers.
3. Planting as many cover crops as possible
Generally, soil should be covered whenever possible, always leaving a living root in the ground. Living roots reduce soil erosion and provide food for organisms like earthworms and microbes that cycle the nutrients needed for crop production. Cover crops also sequester carbon.
Typically, we plant cover crops in the fall and incorporate them into the soil in the spring, though on some fields, we plant mustard during the growing season. We use a variety of other cover crops, including rye, oats, and tillage radish, planting on fields that are coming out of potato production in the fall or going into potato production in the spring. In 2022, we planted 20,610 acres of cover crops, a 13% increase from 2021.
This Earth Day, we celebrate the work of all farmers and ranchers who work hard every day to protect soil, water and other natural resources while producing food, fiber and fuel for people in their communities and around the world.