Contour Farming

The educational materials listed on this page are about Conservation Tillage.

Conservation tillage reduces soil disturbance by leaving more than thirty percent of the soil surface covered with the residue of a previous crop. This crop production system improves soil conservation, reduces soil erosion and limits water runoff. Producers can choose from several different conservation tillage systems no-till, strip-till, ridge-till or zone-till—based on their individual cropping system and on the amount of residue they want to leave on the soil surface. There is also a variety of tillage equipment available for farmers and ranchers, depending on which tillage system they use. No-till farming leaves all of the previous crop’s residue on the field. Farmers who use a strip-till system only disturb the section of soil that is necessary for seeding. Strip tillage is similar to zone tillage, but the latter cuts deeper into the soil to increase water infiltration. In ridge-till systems, farmers build raised seed beds to create a warmer seedbed with better drainage. Cover crops can be added to any conservation tillage system to provide additional residue and soil cover between cash crops. 

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Building Soils for Better Crops

The fourth edition of Building Soils for Better Crops—enhanced and expanded—explains how to use ecological principles to build soil health and boost fertility, yields and overall sustainability.

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New “Cover Crops and Soil Health” Video from SARE

The newest episode of SARE’s “What is Sustainable Agriculture” animation series illustrates how producers can use cover crops to improve productivity and sustainability. In just a few short minutes, “Cover Crops and Soil Health” outlines how cover crops can build soil structure, protect water quality, suppress pests and improve a farm’s bottom line. Combining cover […]

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Smart Water Use on Your Farm or Ranch

As producers throughout the nation grow increasingly concerned about water scarcity, farmers, ranchers and agricultural educators are beginning to explore new, conservation-oriented approaches to water use.

Videos from the Field

SARE, in partnership with Cooking Up A Story, has produced a series of how-to videos showcasing production and marketing practices used by some of the nation’s most successful sustainable farmers and ranchers.

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Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

This production manual provides comprehensive guidance on conservation tillage systems for farms in the southeastern United States. It covers the core components of conservation tillage systems and includes both regional considerations and producer experiences.

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Free Fact Sheets Identify Broad Benefits of Cover Crops

Along with cutting costs and increasing crop productivity, cover crops provide various ecosystem services that benefit the environment both on and off the farm. For instance, adding cover crops to a rotation can significantly increase the portion of the year when living roots are present for soil organisms to feed on, which can have a […]

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Cover Crop Economics Report Now Available in Print

Cover Crops Offer Options in Wet Soil As more farmers across the nation begin to incorporate covers into their rotations, they find that this valuable conservation practice pays in more ways than one. Many farmers in states suffering from oversaturated fields that prevented or delayed planting are considering cover crops. To help farmers evaluate the […]

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When Do Cover Crops Pay? New USDA-SARE Report Addresses the Question

Farmers around the country are planting cover crops on millions of acres to protect and improve the soil, and the more that farmers use cover crops, the more they value this conservation practice. Cover Crop Economics, a new report published by USDA-SARE looks at the economics of cover crops to help farmers answer that big […]

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Cover Crop Economics

Cover crops can build soil health, control weeds, conserve moisture, provide grazing opportunities and more. But when do they start to pay for themselves? This analysis looks at the economics behind different management scenarios to determine if cover crops are likely to improve profitability in one, three or five years of use in corn and soybean rotations. 

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Improving Soil Health Through Cover Crops

Farmers around the country are discovering the power of cover crops to curb erosion and improve soil health. This video is from Pennsylvania, where a Penn State researcher and a grain farmer are partnering to spread the word.

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Organic Production

Capitalize on the booming organic industry. This topic room has resources on organic systems, pest management, animal production, marketing, certification, conservation and much more.

Donn Branton

Innovative Assessment Helps Farmers in the Northeast Improve Soil Health

  Improving soil health without understanding the soil’s condition is not easy and traditional soil tests, though important management tools, don’t provide information on the physical structure or microbial life living in the soil. That is why a multidisciplinary team at Cornell University created a soil health assessment, which measures physical, chemical and biological indicators […]

Establishment Methods for Cover Crops and Cash Crops in Grain Production Systems

Steven Mirsky (USDA-ARS), Greg Roth (Penn State University) and Sjoerd Duiker (Penn State University) discuss common establishment methods for cover crops; the importance of matching the right cover crop species with the right methods; and other topics such as no-till versus tillage; optimal timing of cash crop establishment, drills versus planters, planter and drill attachments and set up; cover crop termination; and planting green.

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2015/2016 Report from the Field

Read about SARE-funded work in the areas of sustainable dairy cropping systems, soil health assessments, nutrient management, cover crops, beginning farmers, pollinators, technical assistance programs for women farmers, and more. This edition includes highlights of projects funded through the graduate student program, and the highly regarded Sustainable Agriculture Fellowship, a professional development program coordinated by SARE and NACAA.

Farmer Panel on Cover Crops

Farmers Skip Paul (Rhode Island), Jeff Frey (Pennsylvania) and Perry Lilley (Maine) share their experiences with cover crops, including their motivation for using them, successes and challenges, factors that play into decision making around cover crops, and advice for ag service providers who want to encourage farmer adoption of this vital conservation practice.

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For Vegetable Farmers, a New No-Till Tool in Forage Radish

Vegetable farmers who want the myriad benefits of winter cover crops may be setting themselves up for a hectic spring schedule, when the challenge of planting during a narrow window of good weather becomes more complicated by the need to first terminate that winter crop. To make their lives a little easier, University of Maryland […]

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Cover Crop Management and Termination

Planning for proper spring management of your cover crop needs to happen before April. Learn from two experts in the field on a couple different methods for termination.

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2014 National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health

All session recordings and slide presentations from the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health are available online. Held in 2014 in Omaha, Neb., the event brought together 300 agricultural leaders and innovators to explore how we can make American agriculture more sustainable through improved soil health. Attendees represented agricultural industry, the farm community, academia, government, commodity and conservation organizations.