What you should know
Profitable food production depends on healthy, productive soil. Damaged soil produces far less today and in the future.
A good soil management program is designed to maintain or improve soil health and productivity by:
- Protecting the soil from degradation by erosion and salinization;
- Maintaining or increasing soil organic matter;
- Reducing runoff from the land into water sources; and
- Minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.
Erosion caused by too much or too little rainfall, or the type or texture of soil, cannot be completely eliminated, but good management practices can have a major positive influence. Good tillage practices, residue management and crop rotations can reduce the potential for soil erosion.
Organic matter in the soil reduces crusting and erosion by wind and water. It also provides important nutrients for crops and increases the ability of a soil to hold water. Soil-building crop rotations, reduced tillage and appropriate manure applications can build up organic matter and help decrease soil degradation. Once a soil is degraded, it takes dedicated effort and time to restore it to productive use.
Runoff from agricultural land has the potential to be a major source of pollution in lakes and rivers. If pesticides, phosphorous or soil sediment reach a water source, they will degrade the quality of the water and can kill fish and other aquatic life.
The benefits from maintaining soil health by using reduced or minimum tillage and not summerfallowing can be seen in increased crop production and reduced risk during drought. In addition, by managing residue effectively and returning as much to the soil as practically possible, soil organic carbon is increased, and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. A further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by soil testing annually to determine specific fertilizer and nutrient needs, reducing denitrification losses, and by spring-banding fertilizer applications.
What you can do
- Check your land for places where soil is most likely to erode and find out what you can do to prevent it. Consider retiring these places and re-vegetating with trees and grasses.
- Reduce or eliminate tillage and summerfallow. Use crop rotations that increase organic matter in the soil and decrease soil erosion.
- Do regular soil sampling to ensure a balanced fertilizer program.
- Know and understand the legislation that pertains to soil management. Manage your operation to meet and if possible exceed legislation.
- Use this chapter to assess how well the soil on your farm is being managed.