IMPROVE YOUR SOIL IN 2015: YOUR SOIL GUIDE TO A MORE PROFITABLE FARM
It’s that time of the year again; it seems that everyone around you is making their New Year’s Resolutions. Many people are wishing for weight loss and that new slimmer figure, others are committing themselves to more family time, and some are simply hoping for better health and happiness. I may not be able to help you become that new healthier you, however I can help you save money and make the soil on your farm healthier this year.
It may sound unusual to say “improve your soil” when there are certain conditions on your farm that you have no control over, such as your soil texture. You won’t ever be able to change your proportions of clay, silt, or sand. And that’s okay, because there are ways to optimize all soil types. There are a number of ways to enhance your soil health and they fall under three general categories; Preventative Damage, Improvement, and Regular Maintenance.
1. Preventative Damage
Preventative damage includes those things you can do on your field to avoid damage to your soil. An example would be reducing the amount of compaction and erosion to your soil.
Compaction is the compression of the soil into a smaller volume; essentially removing the space for air and water that is found in normal healthy soils. Compaction will inhibit your crops’ ability to uptake oxygen, nutrients, and water. In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, they found that yield losses caused by compacted soil can be as high as 50%. You can reduce compaction by making fewer passes with your drill and staying off of wet soil as much as possible.
Effects of Compaction
Be mindful of erosion as well. Signs of erosion can appear as small channels or streams within the soil on your field, exposed roots, or balding spots. You can reduce erosion by keeping soil covered with vegetation or trash, when you leave soil bare it has higher susceptibility to a number of erosive properties such as wind and water. Wind is a phenomenal force for removing topsoil, especially in the prairie regions.
So, how does reducing compaction and erosion benefit your soil? It will prevent damage to soil structure, organic matter, and soil moisture holding capacity. When the soil is compacted, the pore space in the soil becomes smaller, meaning less aeration, water infiltration, and issues with drainage.
Get your soils tested – this is really the first step to understanding your soil and it’s an inexpensive solution to maximizing your fertilizer inputs. If you treat your soil well it will treat you well in return. According to Crop Nutrition, as much as 60% of your crop yield is dependent on your soil’s fertility.
3. Regular Maintenance
We can’t assume that because we have accomplished the first two goals that we can stop worrying about the soil on our fields. Continue soil testing and adding nutrients and be observant of how the conditions change over time, which new conditions develop, and keep meticulous records of the changes to discuss them with your agronomist or soil expert, e.g. new weeds, crop rotations, soil test results and their corresponding field coordinates.
Wishing you and your soil a happy and healthy new year!