corn and corn husk

The age-old practice of building soil with cover crops was just resurfacing when SARE first started offering grants in 1988, and the program dug right in. Nearly a quarter of SARE funding in that first year supported projects to improve soil health and nutrient availability, mostly through cover crops.

SARE’s investment has continued through the years. The use of cover crops, conservation tillage, diverse crop rotations, composts and even the integration of livestock and manure into cropping systems all contribute to overall soil health and crop yield, and have been the focus of hundreds SARE grants. (See the profile, Farmer Network Fosters a Lasting Commitment to Cover Crops.)

Lost soil is lost money, and investments in soil health can yield significant economic returns through better soil conservation, nutrient efficiency, water availability, pest management and overall plant health. Cover crops have been shown to protect anywhere from $5 to $50 per acre in crop productivity by preventing soil erosion. During the severe 2012 drought, corn and soybean fields where cover crops had been planted were more productive than fields where they had not been, according to a national SARE survey.

Now that the strong link between soil health and farm profitability has been established, more and more farmers and ranchers are turning to practices that protect and enhance the soil, one of our country’s most vital natural resources.

By the Numbers - SARE Grants on Soil Health, 1988-2017

Getting the Word Out

Managing Cover Crops Profitably cover

SARE produces dozens of educational resources on a range of sustainable agriculture topics. Grantees produce even more with SARE funding. Here are just a few examples that address soil health (or see all SARE resources on soil health): Managing Cover Crops Profitably (1998, now in its third edition) Print: 61,315 | Online: 1.2 million Building Soils for Better Crops (2000, now in its third edition) Print: 55,225 | Online: 189,357 Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects (2015) Print: 16,401 | Online: 11,657 Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations (2013) Print: 22,222 | Online: 32,397 “Print” is copies distributed since the date of publication. “Online” is combined downloads and unique page views over a recent six-year period.

Visit the database of project reports to explore SARE-funded research on these topics.

Conservation Tillage

purple cartoon tractor  411 grants | $20.6 million

Cover Crops

orange cartoon sun rising over a field of crop rows  822 grants | $39.5 million

Crop Rotation

purple cartoon arrow cycle with a sprout in the middle  318 grants | $16.4 million

Integrated Crop/Livestock Systems

blue cartoon cow standing next to a plant  259 grants | $9 million

Nutrient Management

cartoon green person writing  265 grants | $15.4 million

Soil Health

red cartoon hand holding soil  600 grants | $31.9 million

Soil Microbiology

green cartoon microscope  229 grants | $12.3 million

Soil Moisture

blue cartoon pile of water droplets 460 grants | $14.4 million


1,778 grants | $76.7 million

Because some projects address more than one topic, the total is adjusted to remove duplicates.