5 ways to improve your soils now
By Lon Tonneson
There are five things you can do now to boost soil health, say Nathan Mueller and Anthony Bly, South Dakota State University Extension agronomists and field soil specialists.
1. Grow more roots. Most soil organic matter is from root-derived carbon. Active roots, growing more of the season, can increase soil biological activity and soil carbon. Planting cover crops, rotating crops and diversifying the rotation are all ways to grow more roots.
2. Reduce tillage. Doing less tillage helps minimize the destruction of soil structure, which maintains the continuity of soil pores for air and water movement. Residue left on the soil surface helps retain soil moisture and protects against soil erosion. Tilling the land less can reduce labor and fuel bills, too.
3. Minimize soil compaction. Roots need soil voids, with both water and air, to explore the soil and produce a large and healthy system.
4. Integrate livestock into the cropping system. Manure and urine from grazing animals will increase soil microbial activity and nutrient cycling. Cattle can compact the soil, but it is limited to the top 2 inches of soil. Natural wet-dry and freeze-thaw cycles will remove the compaction.
5. Soil-test. Tests are relatively inexpensive and will help you manage soil pH. Soil pH is important because it affects plant growth, soil-chemical reactions and biological activity. Soil-test results will also help you avoid overapplying nitrogen and phosphorus. New biological tests can be used to monitor changes in soil health.
• There are five steps you can take to start improving soil health right now.
• Easy, low-cost steps include reducing tillage and avoiding compaction.
• Cover crops and livestock can have a positive impact on soil life.
This article published in the May, 2014 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.
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