Healthy Soil is a Foundation for Farm Success
Managing soil health is one of the most effective ways for farmers to increase crop productivity and profitability while improving the environment. Positive results are often realized within the first year, and last well into the future.
Soil is made up of air, water, decayed plant residue, organic matter from living and dead organisms, and minerals, such as sand, silt and clay. Increasing soil organic matter typically improves soil health since organic matter affects several critical soil functions. Healthy soils are also porous, which allows air and water to move freely through them. This balance ensures a suitable habitat for the myriad of soil organisms that support growing plants.
It’s not difficult to improve soil health. Here’s how: till the soil as little as possible; grow as many different species of plants as possible through rotations and a diverse mixture of cover crops; keep living plants in the soil as long as possible with crops and cover crops; and keep the soil surface covered with residue year round.
Healthy soils lead to:
Increased Production – Healthy soils typically have more organic matter and soil organisms which improve soil structure, aeration, water retention, drainage and nutrient availability. Organic matter holds more nutrients in the soil until the plants need them.
Increased Profits – Healthy soils may require fewer passes over fields because they are only minimally tilled and they aren’t over-reliant upon excessive nutrient inputs to grow crops. Healthy soils can increase farmers’ profit margins by reducing labor and expenses for fuel, and optimizing inputs.
Natural Resource Protection – Healthy soils hold more available water. The soil’s water-holding capacity reduces runoff that can cause flooding, and increases the availability of water to plants during droughts. Good infiltration and less need for fertilizers and pesticides keep nutrients and sediment from loading into lakes, rivers, and streams. Groundwater is also protected because there is less leaching from healthy soils.
Additionally, fewer trips across fields with farm machinery mean fewer emissions and better air quality.