by Larry Cooper
8 SIMPLE STEPS TO HEALTHY CROP SOIL: A PREVIEW
Of course, you’ll need to read this complete article to understand how and why each of these steps is essential for creating healthy crop soil, but here’s a preview.
- Understand that soil is a living system.
- Measure and document your soil characteristics.
- Disturb the soil structure as little as possible.
- Bring plant diversity to the soil.
- Keep soil covered at all times.
- Keep living roots in the soil all year round.
- Build soil organic matter.
- Have a soil health plan: Review and revise it regularly.
Decline in soil health is one of the most potentially devastating world-wide crises of the 21st century, but the average person who does not farm probably never gives farm soil a second’s thought: The supermarkets are fully stocked—everything must be okay, right?
It’s not. A Reuters news headline from 2014 stated, “Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues.” The article quoted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as saying that about a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded from chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation, and global warming. It was predicted that in 2050 the amount of agricultural land, in particular, would be only a quarter of the amount available in 1960—yet we will have 2 billion more people to feed.
What can be done about it? Quite a bit, actually; though reversing soil degradation and improving soil health is going to require changes in thinking and changes in some very hard-wired cultural practices. The 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil that we’re about to discuss are culled from a variety of farming philosophies, some as old as time itself. You can find them in modern-era discussions of Regenerative Agriculture, Restoration Agriculture, and Conservation Agriculture, but they also draw from many aspects of “conventional” farming that were in place long before the concept of “conventional” included chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most important, these steps are modeled on the practices followed by Nature itself in every undisturbed forest floor, unplowed prairie, and pristine mountain meadow.
The very best thing about the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil is that these practices can be profitably applied with good results by commercial farmers (conventional and organic), hobby farmers, community gardeners, even the “square-foot” backyard gardeners in the middle of a city. And while geography, soil type, and soil history certainly influence how the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil are implemented, implementing them all (and it has to be all of them) will lead to good results in all soil-based plant-growing situations.
What are the benefits of healthy soil?
Better Yields. Healthy soil produces more abundant crops of higher quality that are less susceptible to pests and diseases, more drought resistant, and better tolerant of wind, heavy rain, hail, heat, and all the other mayhem that keeps farmers up at night.
Economic Return. In addition to better yields, crops will require less chemical input in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. This won’t happen overnight, or even necessarily in the first year or two. But in the long term, growers will find their input expenditures greatly reduced.
A Farm for the Kids. Restoring health to the soil in a sustainable way means that growers will leave their kids a productive, profitable farm that the kids, in turn, can also leave in good shape for the grandkids.
Saved Planet. Though not necessarily our immediate goal, following the 8 Simple Steps to Healthy Crop Soil will increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil and lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which will help reduce global warming and give our grandkids’ grandkids a decent world in which they can live and prosper.
With these impressive benefits in mind, let’s dig deeper into how to create healthy crop soil.
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