Changing your farming technique to improve long-term soil health is a great idea, of course, but farming is complicated enough without adding another variable to the equation, so I suspect it’s done very often.

A study from some Dartmouth professors found an unexpected impetus for farmers, however: Sticking it to the Agrochemical Man! (You can read a story about it from Dartmouth here)

Many farmers view improving soil health as a way to improve their quality of life by reducing their dependence on agrochemical companies’ products and advice. “Farmers are really looking to get off that treadmill of high-input, high-yield commodity agriculture,” says co-lead author Susanne Freidberg, a professor of geography. 

The most obvious way to get farmers to do the work is to pay them for it. Carbon credits are the obvious route but the story says the money isn’t worth the hassle, at least not yet. There are other complications, it says:

Below-ground microbial activity not only builds soil fertility, which enables farmers to use less fertilizer, but also helps reduce erosion, conserve water, and sequester carbon. But field practices that are good for soil microbes are not always good for relations with neighbors and landlords.

“Farmers mentioned that when they stopped tilling and started planting multispecies cover crops, they started getting strange looks at their local coffee shop because now their fields looked messy,” said Freidberg.

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