4 Ways to Improve Your Soil Health

February 18, 2016 05:00 AM
4 Ways to Improve Your Soil Health

When it takes 100 years to produce one inch of topsoil, it makes sense to take care of your soil health for the short- and long-term benefits on your farm's productivity.

Eileen Kladivko, Purdue University professor of agronomy, recommends these four strategies:

1. Do all you can to reduce soil disturbance. “Reduce the amount, intensity or depth of tillage," Kladivko says. You don’t necessarily have to switch to no till, according to Kladivko, but if you use a moldboard plow, maybe switch to something that inverts the soil a little less, or try strip till. Loose, tilled soil leads to a higher likelihood of erosion or other environmental loss.

2. Keep the soil covered. This could mean cover crops, but if you don’t want to make that jump, there are other ways to give your fields similar protection. One simple solution? Keep crop residue at the surface.

3. Try to have something growing in your fields as long as possible. “The main example is cover crops or having a winter crop mixed in with summer crops,” Kladivko says. “For some farmers this could be a rotation with a hay crop. Try to have live roots for as long as possible.”

4. Increase crop diversity in your fields. “In a corn and soybean rotation, adding a third crop (such as) wheat increases your diversity of plant materials,” the professor says. If you plant cover crops, she also encourages using a multi-species cover crop.

Why do these things matter? “Three of the four principles are aimed at soil biology,” Kladivko explains. She says covering the soil, keeping something growing and increased diversity helps encourage soil organisms such as microbes and earthworms to do their part.

Such activity is essential in healthy, productive soils. “The soil organisms recycle nutrients, break down crop residue and help build the soil,” she says. “Some organisms, like fungi, break down residue and excrete sticky carbon compounds that sort of glue the soil together.”

Soil might not walk around like most living creatures, but it needs to be kept alive just the same. 

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Spell Check

Rod Sommerfield
Mazeppa, MN
2/18/2016 06:50 AM

  The picture at the top of this article dose not show evidence of a soil that is healthy.This is likely from the aggregates showing tillage as there source. Natural tilth was in most soils before tillage minerialized the active Carbon. If you want health to return to your soils keep your residue on or near the surface so the decomposition process completes in an aerobic environment. Fulvic and Humic Acid are essential to forming micro-aggregates the building blocks of Natural structure and function. This can cure all environmental concerns related to croplands but most importantly to most producers in this economy it can make your operation sustainable, as half or more of what you now spend on production costs can be supplied by Nature fore free.

Rudy Hiebert
Abbotsford, BC Canada, WA
2/18/2016 05:28 PM

  Must admit I am biased against using chemical fertilizer for obvious reasons. Some of these reasons are that I have seen how destructive the are when it comes to killing the organisms in soil that are paramount to the soil's production.

Mark Flock
New Bremen, OH
2/19/2016 09:20 AM

  There are companies introducing good winter cover crops for the Midwest that would serve to keep the soil covered between corn/beans/wheat rotations and produce a oil seed with value. Value as a bio-fuel and or human consumption. This has great potential for farmers to protect/enhance their soil and do it also with an economic incentive.


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