Sustainable Farming Practices

Soy farmers use many practices to improve sustainable production, including:


Reduced tillage leaves stalks and plant matter from the prior year’s harvest on the ground, providing a “blanket” that prevents soil erosion and protects water quality.

Cover crops like rye and oats are planted in the off-season to hold nutrients in the field. In spring, the nutrients are recycled back into the soil, creating rich organic matter for the primary crop, like soybeans, to thrive on, reducing fertilizer needs.

Buffers use strips of grass or other vegetation to trap valuable nutrients and sediment from being carried off fields by heavy rain. By slowing down water, buffers filter out about 50% of nutrients and crop protectants.

Natural wetlands. Near waterways and in significant watershed areas, farmers have been slowly releasing acreage from crop production and allowing it to return to its natural wetland state. Soy producers have converted thousands of acres in their states along streams and rivers from farmland to wetlands in the last 20 years.

Farmers know that losing soil and nutrients is damaging to both their livelihoods and the environment, so they incorporate best practices on farm and seek sources for assistance and education to adapt even better means for protecting their land and other natural resources.

  • The 4R’s of nutrient stewardship, or nutrient management, are commonly adopted by soy farmers for proper nutrient application.
  • The 4R’s stand for “right source, right rate, right time, and right place” and serve to guide farmers to the management practices that help keep nutrients on and in the field.

More information on the ways we farm sustainably:

  • Keep a living root in the soil for longer in the year
  • Provide ground cover
  • Increase biodiversity in the cropping system
  • Decrease erosion
  • Increase weed control
  • Improve nutrient cycling
  • Sequester carbon
  • Reduce nutrient leaching and runoff
  • Produce additional livestock feed and increase the amount of grazing days

Many soy farmers utilize early planting as a means for conservation. Planting as early as possible enables the crop to:

  • Use more of the solar radiation that is available well before and just after the longest day of the year.
  • Use more of the early-spring rainfall for crop development – because some of that water may just evaporate before it can be used by a later-planted crop.
  • Form a canopy earlier in the growing season. This helps it capture all the incoming solar radiation and reduce water evaporation from the soil.

  • Soybeans are a well suited crop for no-till and strip-till practices, two of many tillage methods farmers use to plant crops.
  • No-till and strip till can take less time and labor – and lead to higher yields, lower seed costs, less disease presence, reduced fuel use and fuel costs, along with soil benefits like reduced soil moisture loss and improved health through increased organic matter.
  • These practices, when adopted, can be a win for both farmers and the environment.In a no-till system, farmers plant directly into the undisturbed residue of the previous crop without tillage, except for nutrient injection. No-till planting into a cover crop encourages earthworms, which feed on the residue and help with the aggregation process.
  • In a strip-till system for row crops, seeds are planted into narrow strips (typically 6-8 inches) that were tilled and where fertilizer may also be applied.
  • When compared with conventional or other conservation tillage methods, no-till/strip-till production can reduce soil erosion and sediment loss to water and wind; this helps mitigate sediment loading in bodies of water.
  • It can also increase soil carbon sequestration (the amount of carbon retained in the soil) and improve the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil in a number of ways, including increased water-hold capacity, higher soil organic matter content, and reduced soil compaction.
  • Maintaining greater residue on the surface reduces soil temperature, maintains soil moisture, and protects the soil from excessive sunlight and wind.
  • Soil organic matter plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Soil can act as a major source for carbon released into the atmosphere and a sink to store carbon.
  • When carbon is stored in the soil, it is not released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Tillage increases microbial action on organic matter stored in the soil and normally increases the rate of decomposition that changes organic carbon into CO2.
  • Soil organic matter is directly related to soil fertility and positively correlated with agricultural productivity potential. Besides reducing greenhouse gases, other advantages of increasing or maintaining a high level of soil organic matter include reduced soil erosion, increased resistance to compaction, increased biological activity and enhanced soil fertility.
  • In dry conditions, reduced-tillage planting systems preserve moisture in the seedbed, enhancing uniform germination and plant establishment. Crop residue also is a food source for beneficial fungi, bacteria, and insects.
  • Strip till leaves most of the previous year’s crop residue on the soil surface, protecting new crop plants from wind damage during establishment and continuing to protect the soil if the crop fails to establish due to drought or flood. Crop residue readily decays and is incorporated into soil by earthworms and other invertebrates when the growing crop canopy covers the space between the rows.

  • Conserves energy because only part of the soil is tilled
  • Reduces soil erosion because most of the soil remains covered with crop residue throughout the year
  • Releases less carbon into the atmosphere and maintains higher levels of soil organic matter
  • Warms the tilled strips sooner in the spring to promote seed germination and plant emergence
  • Conserves soil moisture because most of the soil surface area is covered with crop residue
  • Results in crop yields that are similar or higher, compared with other tillage systems
  • Reduces expenses by eliminating some primary and secondary tillage

  • Builds soil structure and reduces erosion
  • Increases soil organic matter
  • Increases water holding capacity
  • Increases water infiltration rates
  • Increases worm counts
  • Allows the other living organisms in the soil to thrive
  • Reduces fuel, time, and labor costs by requiring fewer trips across the field
  • Improves overall water quality
  • Increases overall farm resiliency to withstand extreme weather events including floods and droughts