WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2015 – USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack joined with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) chief Jason Weller and Thomas Tidwell, the head of the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday to mark 2015 as the International Year of Soils (IYS). 

The campaign was initiated by the United Nations to increase awareness of the importance of soils, including the essential functions soils provide and their critical role in global food security, climate change mitigation, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. 

 “(The International Year of Soils) is a great opportunity for (USDA) to put the focus and attention on something that is extraordinarily important to the future,” Vilsack said in a ceremony at USDA headquarters in Washington. Soil resources, he said, are challenged in the U.S. and around the world by climate change and short-term thinking. “We at the USDA have taken this challenge seriously,” he said.

Weller echoed Vilsack’s sentiments and said his agency will be planning activities and working with the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and other partners to showcase the importance of soils with monthly themes, starting with January’s theme, “Soils Sustain Life.”

“Most people don't realize that just beneath our feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence," said Weller, whose agency was formerly titled the Soil Conservation Service.  “We are helping producers unlock the power of soil health as part of an important and very successful national campaign. Our campaign demonstrates our renewed commitment to soil conservation and soil health."

Conservation practices that improve soil health are among the tools NRCS has to help landowners face the challenges Vilsack mentioned and maintain and improve their productivity. These soil management systems, which include use of cover crops, conservation tillage practices and crop rotations, reduce sediment loss from farms and ranches, buffer the effects of drought, flood and other severe weather; sequester carbon, and create biodiversity in the rural landscape.

Vilsack noted that later this month, USDA plans to announce proposals that will be funded by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), an initiative authorized in the 2014 farm bill. He said the announcement will help expand partnerships between the public and private sectors, with NRCS delivering conservation assistance to producers and landowners.

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