Improving energy and resource use in US agriculture begins with the soil. Healthy soils improve air and water quality, increase land productivity, help resist the effects of drought and floods, improve energy efficiency and enhance the ability to mitigate climate change. In 1993, the US Board on Agriculture concluded that national policy should seek to: conserve and enhance soil quality as a fundamental first step to improve the environment; increase the efficiency of nutrient, pesticide and irrigation use in farming systems; increase the resistance of farming systems to erosion and runoff; and make greater use of field and landscape buffer zones, all delivered through farm system management plans. Despite their detailed analysis and thoughtful approach, only a few of their recommendations were implemented. But now, calls from the scientific community to improve resource and energy use in agriculture are becoming more urgent in tone and could help drive policy reform. We review the reasons behind this rising sense of urgency, highlight some of the potential policy drivers along with policy ‘game changers’ and offer policy options. We argue to expand our view of agriculture as a source not only of food, fiber, biofuels and renewable energy but also of other critical ecosystem services, like cleaner water, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat, and to adjust policies to realize this potential on all agricultural lands. We recommend undertaking a second National Agricultural Land Study as a basis to develop a clear national strategy to help US agriculture meet the challenges it will face in the coming decades. For the short term, we offer incremental policies to improve energy and resource use and, for the long term, we offer a vision of what that national strategy might include once the necessary analyses are completed and consensus is reached.