Farm Fresh: Soil Health: A Foundation for Agricultural System Sustainability – Vital
Healthy soils are essential to the success of farming operations. They increase the ability of crops to withstand climatic variability – including short-term extreme weather events during the growing season – as well as the ability to store water, maintain a healthy microbial community and maintain good potential. of nutrient cycling. And these benefits are most evident when growing conditions are less than ideal.
Soil health is defined by the level at which it will continuously support plants, animals, and human lives. Soil properties influence plant water availability, off-field nutrient losses during rain events, and nutrient availability for fuel, food and fiber production. Simply put, healthy soils are essential for maintaining abundant agricultural production and supporting wildlife habitats.
What affects soil health?
Soil organic matter is a central property that influences its health, and it is strongly affected by management practices such as tillage. This, in addition to crop rotation, crop diversity and weather conditions, has an impact on the physical, biological and chemical functions of the soil. Well-managed soil can increase plant nutrient storage and supply, microbial diversity, and carbon storage.
Intensive tillage and monoculture systems can lead to soil degradation, weakening of soil structure and reduction of the microbial community that is essential for healthy crops. Soil degradation is always associated with intensive tillage, especially in spring. This is when soils are most vulnerable to water erosion in areas with high rainfall or wind, because there is a lack of crop residue cover to protect the soil surface.
Maintenance of agricultural production
The benefits of increasing organic matter with conservation practices such as no-till (NT) can translate into yield savings, especially in times of drought. A long-term study conducted in Iowa found that there is a 50-70% increase in water recharge in the soil profile with NT compared to conventional tillage. This increase in water storage can have significant effects on yield.
During the 2012 drought, corn yield reduction in parts of the state exceeded 40% with conventional tillage, compared to 15% with NT. This is due to the benefits of NTs in improving the biological, chemical and physical properties of the soil, largely due to crop residues left on the soil surface. Residues can minimize erosion and protect the original soil organic matter from decomposition.
To the average person, it may sound like “soil,” but soil is essential for the farms that nurture and feed the world. Healthy crops and hearty yields start from scratch.