Improving Soil Health Reduces Material Costs

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Can improved profitability and soil health be connected in an obvious way? Well, the answer is likely no, but it’s still worth real consideration. There are so many factors that go into farming that it’s challenging to place each grower in a single bucket. Each farm has distinctive soil types, topography, weather, production and management systems, history, etc. so the modification or investment into improving soil health can be a different exercise for everyone.

Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Scientists use the term soil quality, defined by the interactions of specific soil’s measurable chemical, physical and microbiological properties. Increasing a soil’s organic matter content impacts all three, and this content is most accurately measured by assessing soil organic carbon. Increasing soil organic carbon improves nutrient availability and water holding capacity, reduces erosion, increases the rate of water infiltration (thereby reducing runoff), and provides other benefits. Increasing soil organic carbon is a major component of what is often described as “carbon sequestration.” It’s a process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and incorporated into solid or liquid organic substances.

A review of several studies showed that a 1% increase in soil organic carbon increases a soil’s capacity to hold plant-available water by approximately 2,500-12,000 gallons per acre in the top 6 inches alone! That’s 10-48 tons of water and because it’s retained in the soil, less water is required overall, nutrient losses to ground and surface water are reduced, there is less erosion, and crop yields increase while plant diseases are diminished. Simply put, richer soils require less material inputs, advancing the notion that improved soil health can provide greater profitability to farms.

Andaman Ag has considerable experience in helping growers improve soil health.