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5 Steps To Boost Soil Health

5 Steps To Boost Soil Health

Growing more roots and doing less tillage are at the top of the list

There are five things you can now to boost soil health fast

1. Grow more roots. Most soil organic matter is from root-derived carbon. Active roots, gr owing more of the season, can increase soil biological activity and soil carbon. Planting cover crops, rotating crops and diversifying the rotation are all ways to grow more roots.

2. Reduce tillage. Doing less tillage helps minimize the destruction of soil structure, which maintains the continuity of soil pores for air and water movement. Residue left on the soil surface helps retain soil moisture and protects against soil erosion. Doing less tillage can reduce labor and fuel bills, too.

Nathan Mueller, former South Dakota State University Extension agronomist, shows differences in soil structure based on crop rotation at a Dakota Lakes Research Farm tour.

3. Minimize soil compaction. Roots need soil voids, with both water and air, to explore the soil and produce a large and healthy system.

4. Integrate livestock into the cropping system. Manure and urine from grazing animals will increase soil microbial activity and nutrient cycling. Cattle can compact the soil, but it is limited to the top two-inches of soil. Natural wet-dry and freeze-thaw cycles will remove the compaction.

5. Soil test. Tests are relatively inexpensive and will help you manage soil pH. Soil pH is important because it affects plant growth, soil-chemical reactions and biological activity. Soil tests results will also help you avoid over applying nitrogen and phosphorus. New biological tests can be used to monitor changes in soil health.

Source: Nathan Mueller, former SDSU Extension agronomist, and  Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension field soil specialist.
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