More than 100 North Carolina high school and college students attended a land stewardship conference in Greensboro, N.C., on April 1 at Wrangler’s headquarters.

Organized in partnership with the North Carolina FFA Association, the National FFA Organization and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Next Generation Land Stewardship Through Soil Health conference aimed to demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of emerging soil-health practices in agriculture.

Wrangler has been a corporate sponsor of FFA for more than 50 years, but this is the first time the organizations have come together to raise awareness about a single agricultural topic.

“One of the pillars of the Wrangler sustainability program is taking care of the land,” said Roian Atwood, director of sustainability for Wrangler. “As a major purchaser of cotton and a trusted brand in farming communities, that means supporting sustainable agriculture practices, most of which—quite literally—are rooted in soil health.”

In recent years, researchers and NRCS have promoted farming and grazing practices to improve soil health. Soil science has found that systems such as no-till, cover cropping, crop rotations and rotational grazing increase the soil’s organic matter and improve beneficial microbial activity. As a result, farmers can sequester more carbon, increase water infiltration, and improve wildlife and pollinator habitats—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields.

“Healthy soil is so much more than just a medium for growing plants. It’s a living ecosystem that, when nurtured properly, can yield significant on- and off-farm benefits,” said NRCS public affairs officer Ron Nichols, who delivered a presentation called, “Why the World Cares,” during the conference. “The next generation of farmers can make these practices mainstream, so we’re excited to get them involved now.”

In addition to the science of soil health for cropland and pasture, participants of this free conference learned about career paths, and how advanced agricultural practices can help address climate change and regional food security, enable the production of more sustainable apparel and consumer goods and revitalize local economies.

“The attendees of this conference are in for something really special,” said Josh Bledsoe, chief operating officer for National FFA Organization, before the event. “We’re going to have agricultural and industry experts joining with a major consumer brand to say, ‘This is why farming matters. We have the opportunity to improve the health of the planet, and we need you.’”

Presenters included the winner of the 2016 North Carolina Young Farmer of the Year Award, an North Carolina State University doctoral student in agronomy, an environmental and agricultural researcher from Cotton Inc., NRCS staff members, and the Wrangler brand’s sustainability director.