8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil

by Larry Cooper

8 SIMPLE STEPS TO HEALTHY CROP SOIL: A PREVIEW

Of course, you'll need to read this complete article to understand how and why each of these steps is essential for creating healthy crop soil, but here's a preview.

  • Understand that soil is a living system.
  • Measure and document your soil characteristics.
  • Disturb the soil structure as little as possible.
  • Bring plant diversity to the soil.
  • Keep soil covered at all times.
  • Keep living roots in the soil all year round.
  • Build soil organic matter.
  • Have a soil health plan: Review and revise it regularly.

Decline in soil health is one of the most potentially devastating world-wide crises of the 21st century, but the average person who does not farm probably never gives farm soil a second’s thought: The supermarkets are fully stocked—everything must be okay, right?

It’s not. A Reuters news headline from 2014 stated, “Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues.” The article quoted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as saying that about a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded from chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation, and global warming. It was predicted that in 2050 the amount of agricultural land, in particular, would be only a quarter of the amount available in 1960—yet we will have 2 billion more people to feed.

What can be done about it? Quite a bit, actually; though reversing soil degradation and improving soil health is going to require changes in thinking and changes in some very hard-wired cultural practices. The 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil that we’re about to discuss are culled from a variety of farming philosophies, some as old as time itself. You can find them in modern-era discussions of Regenerative Agriculture, Restoration Agriculture, and Conservation Agriculture, but they also draw from many aspects of “conventional” farming that were in place long before the concept of “conventional” included chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most important, these steps are modeled on the practices followed by Nature itself in every undisturbed forest floor, unplowed prairie, and pristine mountain meadow.

The very best thing about the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil is that these practices can be profitably applied with good results by commercial farmers (conventional and organic), hobby farmers, community gardeners, even the “square-foot” backyard gardeners in the middle of a city. And while geography, soil type, and soil history certainly influence how the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil are implemented, implementing them all (and it has to be all of them) will lead to good results in all soil-based plant-growing situations.

What are the benefits of healthy soil?

Better Yields. Healthy soil produces more abundant crops of higher quality that are less susceptible to pests and diseases, more drought resistant, and better tolerant of wind, heavy rain, hail, heat, and all the other mayhem that keeps farmers up at night.

Economic Return. In addition to better yields, crops will require less chemical input in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. This won’t happen overnight, or even necessarily in the first year or two. But in the long term, growers will find their input expenditures greatly reduced.

A Farm for the Kids. Restoring health to the soil in a sustainable way means that growers will leave their kids a productive, profitable farm that the kids, in turn, can also leave in good shape for the grandkids.

Saved Planet. Though not necessarily our immediate goal, following the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil will increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil and lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which will help reduce global warming and give our grandkids’ grandkids a decent world in which they can live and prosper.

With these impressive benefits in mind, let’s dig deeper into how to create healthy crop soil.

Download/read the complete White Paper here.

Micronutrients Are the Key to Better Yields

Sometimes the Smallest Things Can Unlock Our Greatest Potential

A New White Paper from Huma Gro®

This White Paper is based on an article by Huma Gro® staff that was originally published in the March 2015 and February 2016 issues of CropLife Magazine.

Micronutrients play a critical role in plant vigor, yield, and harvest quality. Yet, they are often overlooked when growers develop their nutrient programs. In this article we provide an overview of what micronutrients are, the roles they play, how availability is affected by soil and other conditions, how to recognize deficiencies, and the important steps to take when developing a micronutrient plan for your crops.

Read Online          Download PDF

To view the complete Huma Gro® Product Catalog, go to http://bit.ly/HumaGroCatalog2017.

What Is Soil? (Part 1.1)

by Johann Buck, PhD

This two-part article continues our 2015 series on soil as we recognize the International Year of Soils. In Part 1.1 we define soil and its formation. In Part 1.2 we’ll continue with soil texture, structure, and color.

“Daddy, which is this – soil or dirt?” That’s the question Billy asked his father in one of my favorite The Family Circus comic strips.

Let’s begin with dirt. The word “dirt” is derived from the Old Norse word “drit,” which means excrement. Dirt is what you get under your fingernails or on your clothing or shoes while working in soil.

Several definitions exist for soil. Many of those definitions are, let’s be honest, dull. (Those specific definitions of soil can be found on the USDA Soil Education Web page). The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) first defines soil as “an amazing substance.” The SSSA continues to define soil as “a complex mix of minerals, air, water, and countless microorganisms, soil forms at the surface of the land and comes in many types.” In other words, soil possesses life, it supports life, and that makes soil exciting!

Okay, so soil is alive and exciting. How does it form? What is it made of? What does it look like?

Soil Formation
CLORPT. No, that word isn’t Klingon: it stands for “Climate, Organisms, Relief (landscape), Parent material, and Time.” These represent the five major soil-forming factors.

“Climate” determines the kind of plant and animal life that reside on and in the soil. Climate also influences soil temperature, the amount of water available for weathering minerals, and the rate of chemical weathering.

“Organisms,” such as plants and animals, contribute to the formation of soil by adding organic matter. Fungal and bacterial microorganisms subsequently break down the organic matter into a semi-soluble material known as humus, while insects, earthworms, and burrowing animals aid in the distribution of humus throughout the soil. Humus contributes to both soil chemical and physical properties. Humus is composed of small particles, which results in high surface area. These small particles contribute to the soil’s ability to supply and retain essential plant nutrients. The presence of humus can also improve soil physical properties such as water-holding capacity. Humus and its benefits will be addressed in subsequent newsletter articles.

The “Relief,” or landscape, includes the slope, aspect, and position of the soil. The steepness, shape, and length of slope affects the way water flows on or off the soil. Aspect is the compass direction that a slope faces and therefore affects soil temperature. North-facing slopes in the United States, generally speaking, are cooler and wetter than south-facing slopes.

“Parent material” is the mineral and organic material from which soil formation begins. The formation of soils is a continuous process that requires thousands of years for significant changes to occur. This is why “Time” is included as one of the five soil-forming factors. It is this weathering of the parent material over time that leads to the development of the soil horizons.

SoilHorizonsStylin’ and Profilin’
Soil forms in layers, and these layers are often parallel to the soil surface. Technically, these layers are called horizons and their formation is called horizonation. Although these horizons are
related, they differ from each other chemically, physically, and biologically. There are five master horizons, each represented by a letter (see Fig. at left): O, A, E, B, and C. A sixth horizon, represented by the letter R, is used to denote the underlying bedrock. The vertical arrangement of soil horizons is known as the soil profile. Soil profiles vary from location to location, and not all soil profiles possess all five master horizons. (Expanded details for each horizon can be found in the USDA NRCS publication, From the Ground Down.) Soils on older, more stable surfaces will generally possess well-defined soil horizons. The longer a soil has been exposed to events such as rain and plant growth, the more developed the soil profile.

Methodologies exist that scientists use to describe the components and characteristics of the soil profile. These standardized soil-profile descriptions are used to decide how a soil may be used and/or predict how a soil may react to its intended use. Not only are these soil descriptions useful for farmers, they are also useful for civil engineers, ecologists, and hydrologists – to name a few.

Be sure to read part 1.2 of this article in our next newsletter. Keep growing, and make it a good day!

Dr. Buck is North America Director of Technical Services for HUMA GRO®.

Read this and other articles in the Spring 2015 issue of The Solution at http://bhn.uberflip.com/i/513498-bhn-spring-2015-newsletter. Past issues are located at http://bhn.us/newsletters/.

HUMA GRO® ZAP® CAULIFLOWER TEST FIELD IN SPAIN

Cauliflower-Spain

Distributor: Huma Gro Hispaña
HUMA GRO® application was ZAP® 5L/ha

The cauliflower on the left was planted 3 weeks earlier than the cauliflower on the right, meaning the control is an older crop—although it looks worse for wear and is shorter. The two groups have equal nutrition programs: the difference is time and ZAP® at 5L/ha.

Because of the improvement in soil structure and the flourishing of microorganisms, there is more water available to the plant—resulting in a more vibrant color (an indicator that the plants are receiving more nutrients) and stronger vigor and turgidity (meaning the leaves are very firm and have absorbed more water than the control because there is more soil-available moisture). Along these same lines is that by having more water in the leaves, they are less susceptible to low-temperature stress and the plant physiology will continue to function at lower temperatures without losing pace, improving productivity.

HG-150327-01

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