Planning for Soil Health

posted in: Economics, Soil health assessment | 0
Photo credit: I. Jenniches CC BY-NC

by Sterling Grogan, Carpe Diem West

“We plan, God laughs.” (An old Yiddish proverb)

I guess that old Yiddish proverb tells us that planning has had a bad rap for thousands of years. But successful farmers and ranchers know that planning is essential and a conservation plan to improve the health of our soils can provide useful guidance.

By nudging us here and there, a good conservation plan helps us keep our eye on the ball and guides our thinking about how all the plants and animals (wild as well as domestic) and people work together to keep us and our land healthy and growing.

There are various versions of conservation plans, some better than others. A good plan does not have to be lengthy, but touches on critical factors that influence success on the land.


Photo credit: I. Jenniches CC BY-NC

The planning process begins with:

  • A description of our place (a detailed map showing vegetation, water courses, and structures);
  • A list of agencies or organizations that offer help (e.g. conservation and irrigation districts, NRCS, Farm & Livestock Bureau, County Extension);
  • A list of the people who are involved with your place (i.e., family, neighbors, your acequia and community);
  • And a description of the resources (money, labor, technology) that we can use to improve the health of our soils.

Next comes the heart of the plan:  What are our goals?

It might help to think about this by answering three questions:  

  • What do you want our place to look like, in the near and distant future? 
  • How will we support ourselves and our place, now and in the future?  
  • How can our family, friends, neighbors and community help us answer the first two questions? 

Our answers to these three questions can be used as goals to guide us through the myriad decisions we make every day.  Ask yourself:  “Does this action help achieve our goals or does it stand in the way –or even set us back?” 


Our decisions are guided also by the present situation of our land:

  • Is the water cycle functioning properly, or is there too much erosion?
  • Do the plants and animals have the nutrients they need?
  • Do the native plant and animal communities seem to be healthy?
  • Are we doing the best possible job of capturing the solar energy that supports us?

Photo credit: I. Jenniches CC BY-NC

Now that we have assessed the present situation, the fun begins! What actions do we want to do?
Each of the actions we propose can be evaluated according to the criteria in the outline.

The last step in the conservation plan is feedback. We will learn to monitor the changes in soils, plants, and animals, and what we see will in turn influence our actions. What actions might we need to do or change in order to achieve our goals?

Sounds complicated? Maybe, but certified consultants with the Healthy Soil Working Group can help coach you through the planning and action processes. Remember, we are not alone.  We are part of a community of folks who care about healthy soils.


The Healthy Soil Working Group is offering assistance (free of charge) in developing a simple conservation plan that will meet the requirements of NMDA if awarded a Healthy Soil Program grant. Regardless of whether or not you applied for a grant, a conservation plan will be beneficial to you and you’re welcome to participate!

We will work in an online group setting, complemented by one-on-one coaching with certified consultants. This workshop will start in the winter and continue throughout spring 2021 to accommodate farm and ranch schedules.

When: Winter 2020 – Spring 2021
Where: mostly online via Zoom

→ Sign up for conservation planning


Photo credit: USDA NRCS Montana

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