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5 Ways To Start Boosting Soil Health Now

5 Ways To Start Boosting Soil Health Now

You don't have to wait years to make a difference.

There are five things you can now to boost soil health, say Nathan Mueller and Anthony Bly, South Dakota State University Extension agronomists and field soil specialists.

1. Grow more roots. Most soil organic matter is from root-derived carbon. Active roots, growing 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.

Nathan Mueller, South Dakota State University Extension agronomist, shows differences in soil structure based on crop rotation at a 2013 Dakota Lakes Research Farm tour

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.

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.

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