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Conservation Corner

Discover the Cover

Fri, August 18, 2017

Discover the Cover  

Biodiversity helps to prevent disease and pest problems associated with monocultures. Using cover crops and increasing diversity within crop rotations improves soil health and soil function, reduces costs, and increases profitability. Diversity above ground improves diversity below ground, which helps create healthy productive soils.

Cover Crops

Cover crops can be an integral part of a cropping system. Cover crops can be managed to improve soil health, as they help to develop an environment that sustains and nourishes plants, soil microbes and beneficial insects.

Cover crops are typically planted in late summer or fall around harvest and before spring planting of the following year’s crops. Examples of cover crops include rye, wheat, oats, clovers and other legumes, turnips, radishes, and triticale. Planting several cover crop species together in a mixture can increase their impact on soil health. Each cover crop provides its own set of benefits, so it’s important to choose the right cover crop mixture to meet management goals.

Cover Crop Benefits

Restoring Soil Health – Cover crops help increase organic matter in the soil and improve overall soil health by adding living roots to the soil during more months of the year. Cover crops can improve water infiltration into the soil. Deep-rooted crops like forage radishes create natural water passages. Legume cover crops serve as natural fertilizers while grasses scavenge nutrients that are often lost after harvest or during winter.

Natural Resource Protection – Along with crop residue above ground, cover crops protect the soil against erosive heavy rains and strong winds. Cover crops trap excess nitrogen, keeping it from leaching into groundwater or running off into surface water – releasing it later to feed growing crops.

Livestock Feed – Cover crops can provide livestock producers with additional grazing or haying opportunities.

Wildlife Habitat – Cover crops provide winter food and cover for birds and other wildlife. During the growing season, they can provide food for pollinators.

Soil Health Management Systems

Implementing Soil Health Management Systems can lead to increased organic matter, more soil organisms, reduced soil compaction and improved nutrient storage and cycling. As an added bonus, fully functioning, healthy soils absorb and retain more water, making them less susceptible to runoff and erosion. This means more water will be available for crops when they need it. Soil Health Management Systems allow farmers to enjoy profits because they spend less on fuel and energy while benefiting from the higher crop yields resulting from improved soil conditions.

Contact your local NRCS office to learn more about Soil Health Management Systems and the technical and financial assistance available to help “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.”



Conservation Client Gateway

Thu, August 17, 2017

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been helping private landowners address soil- and water-related issues for more than 80 years. But NRCS also works hard to stay on top of changing technologies and offers modern ways of doing business. That is precisely why we improved our Conservation Client Gateway CCG online options. Client Gateway now works on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

Conservation Client Gateway (CCG) is a new online option for farmers to communicate and conduct business with their local USDA Service Center team. NRCS is ready to do business with today’s modern farmers in the digital age.  For farmers involved with conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or Conservation Stewardship Program, they can establish a secure account and send messages, apply for programs, electronically sign documents, and even track payments.


If farmers can control the operation of their irrigation systems from their smartphone they can handle signing conservation contracts through Gateway. 

Even if farmers only log in occasionally to review or electronically sign a document, it can save a trip into town.  The tool is safe to use, it’s safe for all your information, and will make doing business with NRCS a little easier. Once farmers sign up for it, they can use it as little or as much as they want. When you can come into the Service Center office, come in and see us. When you can’t, tap into Conservation Client Gateway.

I see this as a real benefit and time saver if a client has an EQIP or CSP contract.  Instead of us having to have the client come in to the office or us make a trip out to the farm to obtain a signature on an application for payment, they can sign the application for payment online.  Saving some time for us and them.

Just visit  and click on “Get Started.” Activate your account, verify your identity, then log on and begin using the program. CCG works with home computers, laptops, and mobile devices, such as tablets or smartphones. You must have an individual USDA Client Record that includes your current email address and primary phone number.

Signing up for an account as an individual is the beginning point for those who do business as an entity.  Once you get your individual account set up, you will be able to set up for the entity.

We already use computers and smartphones to pay bills and get things done. Why not use it to help get conservation solutions on the ground?”

To learn more, access “How To Set Up Your Client Gateway Account” at
or contact your local NRCS staff.

We have 25 more Gateway accounts that we need to get set up to meet our IL NRCS goal statewide.  Please help us and help yourself in the process.



Soil Health Management

Thu, August 17, 2017

Soil works for you if you work for the soil by using management practices that improve soil health and increase productivity and profitability immediately and into the future. A fully functioning soil produces the maximum amount of products at the least cost. Maximizing soil health is essential to maximizing profitability. Soil will not work for you if you abuse it.

Managing for soil health (improved soil function) is mostly a matter of maintaining suitable habitat for the myriad of creatures that comprise the soil food web. This can be accomplished by disturbing the soil as little as possible, growing as many different species of plants as practical, keeping living plants in the soil as often as possible, and keeping the soil covered all the time.

Manage More by Disturbing Soil Less

Soil disturbance can be the result of physical, chemical or biological activities. Physical soil disturbance, such as tillage, results in bare and/or compacted soil that is destructive and disruptive to soil microbes, and it creates a hostile environment for them to live. Misapplication of farm inputs can disrupt the symbiotic relationships between fungi, other microorganisms, and plant roots. Overgrazing, a form of biological disturbance, reduces root mass, increases runoff, and increases soil temperature. All forms of soil disturbance diminish habitat for soil microbes and result in a diminished soil food web.

Diversify Soil Biota with Plant Diversity

Plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates that serve as the building blocks for roots, stems, leaves, and seeds. They also interact with specific soil microbes by releasing carbohydrates (sugars) through their roots into the soil to feed the microbes in exchange for nutrients and water. A diversity of plant carbohydrates is required to support the diversity of soil microorganisms in the soil. In order to achieve a high level of diversity, different plants must be grown. The key to improving soil health is ensuring that food and energy chains and webs consist of several types of plants or animals, not just one or two.

Biodiversity is ultimately the key to the success of any agricultural system. Lack of biodiversity severely limits the potential of any cropping system and increases disease and pest problems. A diverse and fully functioning soil food web provides for nutrient, energy, and water cycling that allows a soil to express its full potential. Increasing the diversity of a crop rotation and cover crops increases soil health and soil function, reduces input costs, and increases profitability.

Keep a Living Root Growing Throughout the Year

Living plants maintain a rhizosphere, an area of concentrated microbial activity close to the root. The rhizosphere is the most active part of the soil ecosystem because it is where the most readily available food is, and where peak nutrient and water cycling occurs. Microbial food is exuded by plant roots to attract and feed microbes that provide nutrients (and other compounds) to the plant at the root-soil interface where the plants can take them up. Since living roots provide the easiest source of food for soil microbes, growing long-season crops or a cover crop following a short-season crop, feeds the foundation species of the soil food web as much as possible during the growing season.

Healthy soil is dependent upon how well the soil food web is fed. Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them cycle nutrients that plants need to grow. Sugars from living plant roots, recently dead plant roots, crop residues, and soil organic matter all feed the many and varied members of the soil food web.

Keep the Soil Covered as Much as Possible

Soil cover conserves moisture, reduces temperature, intercepts raindrops (to reduce their destructive impact), suppresses weed growth, and provides habitat for members of the soil food web that spend
at least some of their time above ground. This is true regardless of land use (cropland, hayland, pasture, or range). Keeping the soil covered while allowing crop residues to decompose (so their
nutrients can be cycled back into the soil) can be a bit of a balancing act. Producers must give careful consideration to their crop rotation (including any cover crops) and residue management if they are to keep the soil covered and fed at the same time.

To learn more about EQIP cost share for cover crops, nutrient management, no till contact your local NRCS/SWCD office.





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