What is soil health?
Frankly it can mean a little something different to each person, each piece of land, and each agricultural operation.
Generally speaking, Soil health is “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.”
The Principles of Soil Health:
The foundation of soil health consists of four key principles, and a fifth where possible:
1) Soil armor; 2) minimizing soil disturbance; 3) plant diversity; 4) continual live plant root; and 5) livestock integration. These principles are intended to be applied in a systems approach, maximizing the soil building impact.
What’s critical about soil health now?
1. World population is projected to increase from 7 billion in 2013 to more than 9 billion in 2050. To sustain this level of growth, food production will need to rise by 70 percent.
2. Between 1982–2007, 14 million acres of prime farmland in the U.S. were lost to development. To meet growing global demands, we must produce more with less, while simultaneously minimizing environmental impacts.
3. Healthy soils are a carbon sink, and there is a growing body of evidence that the earth’s climate is rapidly changing in response to continued inputs of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Besides, absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt!
4. Improving soil health is key to long-term, resilient landscapes and sustainable agricultural production.
Soil health matters because:
1. Healthy soils are high-performing, productive soils.
2. Healthy soils reduce production costs—and improve profits.
3. Healthy soils protect natural resources on and off the farm.
4. Franklin Roosevelt’s statement, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself,” is as true today as it was 75 years ago.
5. Healthy soils can reduce nutrient loading and sediment runoff, increase efficiencies, and sustain wildlife habitat.
What are the benefits of healthy soil?
1. Healthy soil holds more water (by binding it to organic matter), and loses less water to runoff and evaporation.
2. Organic matter builds as tillage declines and plants and residue cover the soil. Organic matter holds 18-20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use.
3. One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil would hold approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre!
4. Most farmers can increase their soil organic matter in three to 10 years if they are motivated about adopting conservation practices to achieve this goal.