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Education: Soil Health

Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This definition speaks to the importance of managing soils so they are sustainable for future generations.

Soil fertility is determined by the physical characteristics of the soil, the chemical composition AND the biological activity. Some physical characteristics include texture, structure and color. Chemical properties include the cation exchange capacity and the soil pH. Biological activity includes the amount of bacteria, fungi, mycorrhizae, actinomycetes and microorganisms present within the soil. Soil health helps bring attention to biological activity, the component of soil fertility that often gets left out.

How healthy is my soil? Here are some do it yourself tests:

Use our quick and easy guide to compare any two soils based on 10 simple criteria: Soil Health Test
Watch these videos to learn how to do at home tests:


We can provide technical and sometimes financial assistance to anyone who would like to implement these practices.

  • No-till or Strip-till - Managing fields for more residue on the soil surface by reducing or eliminating tillage.
  • Cover Crops - A crop that is grown for the protection and enhancement of the soil.
  • Crop Rotations - The practice of growing different crops on the same field in a way that enhances the soil and crop production.

Corn emerging from fall rye
Photo courtesy Ray Rauenhorst

Rye emerging from harvested sweet corn
Photo courtesy Mark Zumwinkle, MDA

For More Information:

Natural Resources Conservation Service - Soil Health
Midwest Cover Crop Council
University of Minnesota: Tillage
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education: Soil Fertility