For many of us, the New Year marks a symbolic time to reset, reflect and set resolutions to improve our own health. But health resolutions can be made on the farm, too – especially when it comes to improving soil health.
Soil is a living organism that is responsible for producing 95% of the food we eat, and the health of our food depends on the health of the soil. Soil health and soil biodiversity have been on the decline in recent years due to human activity and the overuse and misuse of agrochemicals.
The good news? The effects are reversible. Farmers who use, or transition to, practices that promote healthy soils will reap the benefits of higher yields, increased food production, enhanced crop nutrition, and even help combat climate change (yes, healthy soil can do that, too!).
With fall and winter marking the theoretical planning season, now’s the time to set your soil health goals for the new year. Our expert agronomist, Sean McDonald, shares 5 tips for improving soil health this growing year.
Transitioning to new farming techniques can be challenging and it takes time to see results – just as it took years to deplete soil nutrients. Plan early and be proactive with healthy soil management practices, rather than reactive during the growing season.
Tillage erodes soil and creates a poor soil structure that does not allow roots to move freely to scavenge for nutrients and moisture. Eliminating or reducing tillage operations by switching to cover crops can till the soil without using mechanical equipment and will reduce soil erosion, increase soil productivity, and reduce production costs. In short: use roots and not iron.
Growing the same crop on the same land year-after-year, known as monocropping, is a haven for insects and diseases. Look at your farm’s crop rotation and plan to rotate your crops in the winter for spring plant. In time, this will reduce your pesticide dependency and improve your soil structure.
Soil structure refers to the way in which sand, silt and clay particles are arranged, and a healthy structure is essential to the biology that lives and thrives in it. Create a healthy soil structure by adding organic matter to it, like compost or manure, as well as transitioning to no-till practices and crop rotations.
Cover crops improve soil structure and protect water quality by preventing nutrient run-off and leaching. Cover crops needs to be established well before temperatures fall and growth slows to be effective, so plan to plant them right after you harvest your cash crop. There are many cover crops available to growers so be sure to research and use the right one for your crop rotation.
There is no silver bullet for improving farmed soil. But with the right combination of practices, farmers can create a symbiotic relationship in the earth to help promote healthy soil, produce healthy plants, and increase yields.