Follow these steps for healthy soil

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Is your operation profitable and sustainable? Would you like to know how to do it with less time in the field and fewer inputs? You only need to follow these four steps to start down the path of sustainability.

  • Add diversity to your operation.
  • Keep a living root in the soil.
  • Keep the soil covered.
  • Reduce soil disturbance.

These steps can be completed through the implementation of conservation practices. Implementing a Conservation Crop Rotation is an easy way to add diversity to your operation. Diverse crop mixes encourage diverse populations of soil microbes, break pest cycles and reduce soil erosion.

If you are not looking to change your corn and alfalfa rotation then look towards cover crops to add diversity to your operation. Our cover crop standard allows us to prescribe treatments for concerns from scavenging nitrogen to reducing compaction. Your annually planted crops are only live for about 100 days, which means there are at least another 60 days where you are losing free energy by not having another plant growing in the soil.

Maintaining a live root in the soil increases the amount of organic matter you can build, plus traps nutrients that may otherwise be lost to the ground water or air. That root also provides a home for the microbes that live in the soil. Implementing our residue management practice, which is done by changing or eliminating tillage, can be implemented to take steps 3 and 4.

Keeping the soil covered works to regulate temperature and moisture in the soil. If soil temperatures are allowed to slightly exceed 100 degrees, only 15 percent of the available moisture is used for plant growth and some microbes begin to die. Every time you till the soil you’re destroying the habitat for the larger predatory microbes, insects and the beneficial fungi. Without predators the pest and disease populations are allowed to grow and cause damage.

By implementing two or three practices you can take the first four steps down the path of sustainability and soil health. If you’re wondering what you can do this fall to get moving down this path, don’t till and seed a cover crop or, better yet, a diverse cover crop mix.

To learn more about managing for soil health you can contact Greg White at the USDA Reed City field office at (231) 832-5341 or by email, greg.white@mi.usda.gov.

 

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