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Soil and natural resources

Soil fertility and soil quality

If you are starting out in farming, whether with a tiny urban garden or a large grain field, it’s very worthwhile to have your soil tested on a regular basis to determine organic matter and nutrient content. Most soil test labs will ask you what kinds of things you plan to grow in the soil so that they can give you a recommendation specific to that crop as to nutrient needs. The MU Guides on Soil Testing linked below have specific suggestions about how to gather soil samples and where to submit them (keep in mind you should gather soil samples from multiple spots in your growing area). The MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory can evaluate your soil samples for a small fee.

To better understand the basics of nutrient management, such as how nitrogen is mobile in the soil, but phosphorous and potassium are not, see the MU publications on nutrient management below. Basic information on soils and soil types can be found at the Cooperative Soil Survey. Additional information about soil classification and other soil resources are available through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. From that site you can use the Web Soil Survey (WSS) to get site specific information about the soil types in your area.

For suggestions on how to improve the organic matter in your soil through cover crops or compost, see the ATTRA weblink on soils below which has many resources on sustainable soil management and considerations for improving soil quality. Building organic matter in your soil is one of the most valuable things you can do to improve the quality and productivity of your soil.

MU Extension sources

External resources

Soil Conservation and Natural Resource Management

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers both technical and financial assistance on how to reduce or prevent soil erosion and managing other natural resources. Some NRCS guidance is available through their Missouri website, but specific practices are best summarized on the Conservation Technology Information Center at Purdue University, which is supported by USDA NRCS.

There are several types of financial assistance available through USDA NRCS for implementing conservation practices on your farm. Many of these are cost share approaches where the government pays part of the cost of installing a terrace or vegetative filter strip, and you or the landowner pay part of the cost. In a few cases a flat fee per acre is paid for using a practice, such as using cover crops in the rotation. The largest financial assistance program for conservation practices is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and this program now includes support specifically for organic farmers as well. The best approach is to contact the local NRCS office serving your area and make an appointment to visit with an NRCS staff person about your farm and how they might be of assistance.

Additional help is available through state agency offices, particularly the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). MDC has some cost share programs and a variety of technical assistance programs, including their Private Lands division that provides specific advice on whole farm conservation planning. Likewise, Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MO DNR) has staff who can provide help on certain topics, particularly maintaining water quality.

MU Extension sources

External resources