By The Certis Team
Soil is the foundation of crops, but does it really make a difference for overall crop yield and health? Sustainable practices truly can improve the soil and quality of your crops – here’s why.
Healthy Soil Improves Crops
Although you can’t see what’s happening beneath the soil, it makes all the difference when it comes to your crops. Healthy soil will affect the level to which crops can sustain the life cycles of plants, animals, and humans. Soil also determines the water and air quality throughout the environment for the surrounding habitat of humans and wildlife.
Enhance Ability to Withstand Weather:
If you invest in the health of your soil, you’ll also increase the capacity of crops to withstand variability in weather conditions, even if they become extreme. You can’t predict the weather and its risk to crops during your growing season, but with soil health in mind, crops can more easily resist weather such as heavy precipitation or even bouts of drought because the soil will hold nutrients and water better, and the roots will be stronger to resist varying weather patterns.
Increase Root Health and Crop Yield:
When soil is thriving, so are the roots, and healthy roots typically cause higher yield. When roots are strong, they can better support the plant in the ground, improve the uptake of water and nutrients to the plant, fight against insects and diseases below the soil’s surface, and develop stronger stems and foliage for improved crop yield. Plus, healthy soil will prepare the ground for the next season’s crops.
Assess Your Soil’s Health
The imperative aspects of soil health are nutrient provision and cycling, protection from pathogens and pests, intake of water, growth factors, and reducing the risk of soil erosion. All of these factors influence each other, and organic matter is the building block of the soil. The factors that show the health of your soil are physical, chemical, and biological.
Physical and Chemical Indicators
Physical soil indicators include aggregate stability, topsoil depth, soil density, texture, porosity, compaction, and more, while the main chemical factors are pH and soil nutrients vital to plant growth.
The factor that can affect the other two is the biological health of your soil. Your biological soil health can be affected by the microbial makeup of the soil, organic matter, pests like nematodes (both good and bad), along with other diseases that thrive under the ground and affect crops as they grow, which in turn affects crop health and yield.
Best Practices to Improve Soil Health
When you’re ready to make changes to improve the health of your soil, even small steps can begin to make a difference in the outcome of your crops until you can implement more sustainable practices that benefit the soil.
Under the Ground
Many crops leave much of the ground uncovered, which leaves the soil subject to erosion by the weather or bare between seasons. To effectively protect the soil under the ground, cover crops can be effective to provide a canopy on the soil and improve the soil properties. Growers can also apply a nitrogen fertilizer or animal manure, and cover crops can help store the nutrients so that the following season’s crops can utilize it, which will help grow stronger soil and root systems for future crops.
Above the Soil
As soil tillage in row crops continues to increase, the health of the soil below will decline. Tillage increases erosion while reducing water quality and the ability to achieve sustainable practices in agriculture. Soil that has been highly tilled loses a large amount of carbon (organic matter), which results in decreased root health and crop yield. Implement a plan to reduce or stop tillage to keep cover crops in place, along with potentially adding grass waterways, buffer strips, and other beneficial erosion control methods.
Putting new practices into place will improve soil health, but the existing threat of nematodes and diseases beneath the soil will remain. In order to know what pests may exist in your soil, evaluate it with soil testing and always take preventive measures to ensure crops stay safe. The biggest problem with under-the-surface pests and diseases is that they could destroy crops before you realize there’s a problem, so use a soil application of a biofungicide to protect from diseases, and a nematicide to control lurking plant-parasitic nematodes.
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