"Healthy soils" is the latest catch phrase in soil conservation circles. Expect this one to stick around for a while because farmers are tuning in to the message. Soils that are healthy with biological activity and less prone to crusting seem to be more productive.
"Healthy soils are higher-producing soils," says Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Ready to retire soon, he made his comments during a recent meeting in Indianapolis.
"Healthy soils also capture rainfall and don't allow it to run off," he says. "That means nutrient particles don't run off that are attached to the soil. It also means that there should be less problems with flood waters since more water goes into the soil instead of running on top of the surface, adding to flooding."
White believes there are four keys to healthy soils. Put another way, these are four ways to recognize that soil health is improving.
First, there is increased activity below the surface of the soil. This can include microbes and earthworm activity.
Second, there is a living root in the soil all year long. The move to emphasize cover crops and keeping a living crop on the field during the entire year goes along with this factor.
Third, the soil is farmed with a method that doesn't disturb the soil. Things happened that are positive within the soil when it is not disturbed, White says.
Fourth, engage in a soil cover-up. It may be a play on words, but his message is that keeping cover on the soil builds up soil structure and increases biological activity within the soil.
"For a while we as farmers forgot about the biology of the soil," he says. "We have to control erosion and think of soil health, using such tactics as controlled traffic patterns and other things. It's a package of practices that will improve spoil health, not just one thing.