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Little Grass on the Prairie

How ARS Researchers are Improving Soil Through Better Farming Practices

Historically, grasslands stored vast amounts of carbon. Today, much of what was previously grassland has been converted to agricultural use. Researchers at ARS are investigating a variety of conservation techniques that farmers can use to preserve these lands’ ability to sequester carbon, even when they are being used to grow crops. Among the techniques are different approaches to tillage, the process of turning over the soil for planting.

A no-till approach avoids soil disturbance almost completely, maintaining the complex web of microorganisms that supports plants as they grow and draw in carbon; strip-till techniques modify this approach to till only limited stretches of soil, leaving the rest intact. Researchers are also exploring methods like cover cropping and inter-cropping, which vary the mix of vegetation to achieve better soil health.

Watch this video to see Hal Collins, research soil scientist at the ARS Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple, TX, discuss the impacts of retaining carbon in soil.