By: Skye Root, Brent Lawson, Jim Redmond & Nikki Rogers
Lots of variables go into having a successful farm, but it all starts with good soil health. It is easy to look at soil and just see some dirt. However, there is a lot happening invisible to the naked eye. Imbedded in soil are dynamic ecosystems filled with microorganisms bringing soil to life. These functions include nutrient cycling, improving plant health, enhancing soil structure, increasing water retention (thereby preventing excess runoff), and controlling insects and weeds. In this article, three primary soil management techniques will be introduced.
Cover crops are planted with the primary intent to slow erosion, increase organic matter, reduce soil compaction, and improve soil nutrient availability. Not only can soil compaction be improved, but the composition, weed control, water infiltration, structure, and tillage conditions can benefit as well. Farmers who plant cover crops usually see an increase in yields, especially during drought years. We have previously written a more in-depth article pertaining to cover crops and can be found on our website under “Cover Crops: Impacts to Long-Term Soil Fertility and Producer Bottom Line.”
Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are the three main nutrients needed to grow crops. The right crop rotation can increase soil health and increase long-term yields. One key to crop rotations is incorporating crops that have different root structures and growing timelines. By utilizing crops with different nutrient extraction, soils have the chance to gain necessary microbes and structure, which increase fertility. When done properly, you can benefit from extra crops in traditionally non-growing seasons and see an increase in overall crop health as well.
While important, often cover cropping and crop rotating are not enough to provide the right number of microbes to your farm. Another useful option is to use soil biologicals. Biological farming makes use of a broad range of plant extracts, microbials and insects which are non-toxic to the soil and to farmworkers, while also being more efficient and productive than synthetic inputs. Using soil biologicals helps cultivate the healthiest possible soil that results in higher yields and superior crop quality – demanding higher prices in the marketplace. Here at Root Agricultural Advisory, we consult on and sell soil biologicals.
Overall, implementing any soil-health-focused growing technique can help your farm come closer to its maximum potential. Whether it is using cover crops, crop rotations, soil biologicals, or a combination of all three, it will greatly benefit your crop production and farmland value over the long term.