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Soil Health in the South

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2022 National Organic Research Agenda CoverThe Organic Farming Research Foundation 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) is a report informed by surveys and focus groups conducted in 2020 with over 1,100 certified organic farmers and ranchers across North America.

What Farmers Said

  • In the NORA report, U.S. Southern farmers tended to use cover crops more often compared to other regions (60%).
  • This may reflect the greater need for cover crops in the rotation to replenish soil organic matter (SOM) and nitrogen (N) in Southern region soils, which tend to lose SOM rapidly and have lower inherent fertility than soils in cooler parts of the U.S. (Duncan, 2017).

A Snapshot of the Southern Region
Compared to other regions, NORA respondents from the South were considerably more likely to report many production challenges as substantial. For example, Southern region producers face intense weed, insect pests, and disease pressures, and organic producers incur substantial costs in managing these challenges. Additionally, many organic farmers surveyed from the South were challenged with:

  • Managing soil fertility and crop nutrition (44%).
  • Optimizing soil structure and avoid erosion (38%).
  • Minimizing adverse impacts of tillage on soil health (37%).

Addressing Soil Health in the South

Although there is no specific formula for building healthy soils organically in the South, experienced farmers can take a site-specific approach to building soil health, combining ingenuity with years of observation and trial-and-error to develop unique soil strategies for their operation (Schonbeck and Snyder, 2021).

  • Maintain living roots
  • Maximize crop diversity
  • Minimize soil disturbance
  • Energize the system with biodiversity

Applying Crop Varieties

Crops such as crimson clover, winter pea, arrowleaf clover, and ball clover are appropriate cool season legumes for Southern soils. Cowpeas, lablab beans, lespedeza, and soybeans can be planted to build soil health in warmer season.

For more NORA findings and recommendations to build soil health in this unique U.S. region, download OFRF’s Soil Health in South Infographic and the Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic farming in the Southern Region.

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