Community Agriculture Alliance: Drought resiliency and soil health |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Drought resiliency and soil health

Lyn Halliday
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Out of crisis often comes opportunity. Just as the 1930s Dust Bowl stimulated the creation and evolution of soil conservation, so may the recurrent drought being experienced strengthen efforts toward improving drought resiliency by way of increasing soil health.

Had it not been for the Dust Bowl, the Soil Conservation Service, which later morphed into the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the vast network of Conservation Districts, might never have come to exist. The Routt County Conservation District, initiated in 1942, therefore has roots dating back to the Dust Bowl. As part of the soil conservation evolution an important concept became recognized — that soil and water conservation need to be addressed at the watershed scale.

How is drought resiliency related to healthy soils?

“Conservation practices that improve soil health can help increase organic matter, reduce soil compaction, improve nutrient storage and cycle, and increase water infiltration and water availability to plants. These benefits can lead to a reduction in inputs and higher yields,” according to Tim Reinbott, an NRCS researcher. Best management practices for agriculture include reducing or eliminating tillage; nurturing the living organic components of soils; promoting diversification of soil flora and fauna below ground and of plants above ground; creating pollinator habitat; diversifying rotations including grazing; and reducing wind erosion by establishing wind breaks.

Whether the drought is here to stay, implementing best management practices that improve soil health is a win-win, decreasing risks from extreme weather fluctuations and improving long-term field and watershed health. As important, ag producers’ productivity and profitability have been shown to increase as a result.

As we continue the resource conservation legacy, the Routt County Conservation District invites you to join us for our annual landowners meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 24 via Zoom, where discussions will include drought and soil health. The RCCD Board is always looking forward to hearing your input. For more information visit our website at and send your questions or inquiries to Please let us know if you are interested in participating in our comprehensive soil testing program.

Lyn Halliday is an environmental scientist, the board president of the Routt County Conservation District and the Upper Yampa River Watershed coordinator.

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