Millet anyone? Facing soil crisis, US farmers look beyond corn and soybeans
Shovel in hand, Duane Hager heads for his cornfield and digs up a shovelful of dirt, revealing wriggling earthworms. Although a pelting rain has soaked his gray T-shirt in seconds, not a single puddle lies in the field or in the cow pasture beyond – a sign of vigorous, uncompacted earth.
“If you have soil that is healthy and balanced, it translates into your animals,” says the Kellogg, Minn., dairy farmer.
Across the American Midwest and Plains, small groups of farmers are looking at their most important resource – the soil – and contemplating big change. Their grandfathers and great grandfathers planted trees for windbreaks and planted along the contours of the slopes rather than up and down them to reduce soil erosion. Their fathers began leaving crop stubble in their fields to improve moisture retention, and some gave up tilling the soil altogether. Now, the new generation of producers is looking underground to try to replenish their soils, and they’re doing it by growing something in addition to corn and soybeans. The new farm bill, which President Trump signed on Dec. 20, includes measures that could help popularize the idea.