The idea that farmers should manage their land and crops for soil health is not a new one but has been gaining popularity and permeating mainstream farming over the last decade. There are advocates all across the board: from small-scale, organic vegetable farmers, large-scale conventional grain producers, and livestock farmers to permaculturists and so on.

Read our five management priorities for improving soil health, tailored to our Southeastern soils.

How to know when to crimp

Interested in no-till production, but unsure of how to manage cover crops so they don’t become a problem for the crop that follows?


The most common management concern is when to crimp your cover crop to get a good kill but prevent it from setting seed. Getting the timing right on crimping small grain cover crops like rye isn’t difficult, but it does take a little attention to its growth stage. See this three-minute video for a quick run-down on which stages to look for in order to get that timing right.

Winter is a great time to reflect on how your last season went and make plans for the upcoming growing season. It’s a good time to develop or review the fertility management plan for your farm. Providing the correct amounts of all the nutrients crops need when they need them most takes planning. Animal-based fertilizers are usually a key component of a sustainable farm’s fertility management plan. They can provide critical plant nutrients; depending on the source, they can also help build organic matter in the soil.

There are many different options when it comes to sourcing these fertilizers. You may already be factoring in cost and availability when choosing your fertilizers, but have you thought about food safety?

If you grow produce, which includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms, food safety is something you should keep in mind when using animal-based fertilizers because of their potential to contaminate produce with microorganisms that can make people sick. These include pathogenic E. coliSalmonellaCampylobacter, and Listeria, all bacteria associated with animal manure.

When assessing the food safety risks of your fertility management plan, you should think about four broad questions.


Keep reading Sara Runkel’s expert tip: How to Minimize Food Safety Risks When Using Animal-Based Fertilizers

Plants need nitrogen more than other nutrients, and it is the most difficult nutrient to manage. This is an invitation to do just that for next year. Take some time over the fall or winter to consider how the following three steps may be a pathway to better nitrogen management on your farm—potentially saving you money, improving crop quality and yields, and reducing pollution downstream and in the air.

There’s a lot of new research that can inform how to choose and when to apply organic fertilizers, and there are a few nitrogen management principles to be aware of to minimize losses and ensure the best use of nitrogen on your farm.


Keep reading Mark Dempsey’s The Quick & Dirty on Improving Nitrogen Management.