There is no denying the fact that healthy soils are crucial in producing nutritious foods. Soil, especially healthy soil, is a living, breathing organism with billions of healthy fungi, bacteria, and other microbes. These play a unique role in creating delicate and exquisite self-sustaining ecosystems. It will not only help create nutrient-dense abundant crops but also play a crucial role in the health of our overall environment with the ability to sequester carbon and create cleaner water and air. Thus, it is crucial to opt for soil health analysis periodically.
Soil health analysis is a valuable farm practice that will determine the exact amount of available crop nutrients within the soil. Also, it offers a visible snapshot of different chemical, biological, and physical soil properties. The basic yet necessary micronutrient measurements include:
- Determining the levels of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium
- Analyzing soil pH
- Determining humus content, organic matter, and available lime
Soil health analysis will affect not only crop production but the broader social and ecological services like supporting human health, improving the habitation of animals and enhancing the water & air quality.
Why Should You Consider Soil Health Analysis?
When you send a soil sample to the lab, you shall get a detailed analysis of what is in the soil and what isn’t. Soil health analysis through soil testing tells you what your land needs so that you don’t waste time and money giving it the things it doesn’t need. For example, the soil might need nitrogen, potassium or phosphorous. The pH of the soil might be off, so you may need to add sulphur or limestone. The soil health analysis will tell you what you must know. Just because your neighbour’s field has a specific soil type doesn’t mean you will have the same. Soil quality varies from field to field and even from acre to acre.
Soil Chemistry – Why Should You Care About the pH?
The pH of the soil will determine what nutrients are available to the crop. If the soil pH is above or below the recommended range, the nutrients might not be absorbed, or, in reverse, too much nutrients could be absorbed. You can fertilize all you want, but if the pH is wrong, some of the nutrients in the fertilizer will never make it to the crop. Therefore, it will be a waste. The good news is you can alter the soil to create a much more balanced pH. If the soil has got too much acid, you can add lime. This is a soil amendment done by grinding limestone. The limestone reacts with water and releases calcium that neutralizes the acid and raises the pH of the soil. If the soil is too alkaline, you can reduce the pH by adding aluminium, iron, and powdered sulphur. The liming rates are determined by considering the soil type, limestone quality and the depth of tillage.
When is the Best Time for Soil Health Analysis?
It is crucial to consider the best time for soil health analysis and the amount of time allocated to do so. For instance, soil sampling for the annual crops is typically taken once the harvest is done. In doing so, a farmer will have a lot of time to plan fertilization management. On the other hand, the best time for soil health analysis of perennial crops is at the dormancy stage. Ultimately, how often you choose soil health analysis will depend entirely on you. Whether you are ready to invest in soil quality and get a higher yield is up to you.
You cannot deny that quality and balanced soil are the two main factors in achieving higher yields. Therefore, the farmers must collect soil samples frequently to detect changes affecting crop yield. It is suggested to perform a soil health analysis every 3-5 years. However, it will be ideal for practicing soil health analysis as much as possible, especially when growing annual crops in a crop rotation. In this case, it is recommended to take soil analysis after every third crop in the rotation. The more often you can practice soil health analysis, the more granular the dataset becomes, thus providing more information to make better informed decisions. However, cost also plays a large factor into these management practices.
Three Crucial Soil Management Tips
Even if you opt for soil health analysis, keeping the soil healthy and productive is challenging. However, these three tips can get you on the path to success.
1. Keeping the Tillage and Soil Disturbances to a Minimum
This is a simple yet effective management practice. Keeping the soil disturbances to a minimum will help keep the soil health strong. Whether a no-till system on the farm or using techniques like strip-till or vertical tillage, minimum tillage will help keep the soil structure intact. On the other hand, heavy tillage leads to compaction, which will create a disruptive environment for soil microorganisms – this is a key factor in soil health.
2. Keep the soil covered with cover crops and residue
Covering the soil has a lot of protective effects. The cover crops or residue in the field helps to prevent the raindrops from impacting the top of the soil. Its structure helps to hold moisture, lowers the soil temperature, and offers a habitat for soil microorganisms and organisms that spend time above the ground. The cover crops and residues act as a two-for-one because they decompose and get the nutrients cycled back to the soil.
3. Increasing the soil biodiversity with seed treatments
Biodiversity in your soil is crucial. It helps to offer cycling for water and nutrients that lead to healthy and productive soil. One of the best and newest technologies to improve biodiversity is to opt for biological seed treatments. The seed treatments help to place the beneficial biologicals close to the emerging too of the newly planted crop. The biologicals help improve nitrogen fixation, stimulate plant growth, and promote soil biodiversity.
Contact SoilOptix® to see what you can learn from your soil health analysis.