Soil is the foundation for all we grow. The health of the soil affects our health and profitability. Here are a few tips, just in time for Valentine’s Day, from a well-known Iowa-based agronomist on how to show your soil some extra love this coming crop season.
Build more organic matter. Building up organic matter levels can be a good place to start, says Jim Friedericks, outreach and education adviser for AgSource Laboratories’ at Ellsworth in central Iowa. Increasing the soil organic matter content by just 1% adds 1-acre inch of available water retention to a field, which can have a huge impact when the weather turns dry and hot.
Changes in soil management practices that can increase organic matter include no-till planting, having a cover crop in the rotation, and applying solid manure as a nutrient source. “Like many relationships, building the soil should be seen by all of us as a long-term commitment,” Friedericks says.
Prevent soil erosion. Are you doing all you can to prevent your topsoil from leaving your farm? They say if you love something, let it go, but you’re better off holding on tight to your topsoil. Including cover crops and grass waterways in your farming operation can significantly improve soil retention, as can buffer strips between cropland and waterways.
Maintaining a crop residue cover on the soil will reduce erosion, while also increasing the soil’s organic matter content and helping to retain water. Contact your local USDA-NRCS office to find out what’s best for the lay of your land and your soil type.
Maintain soil pH. Balance in a relationship is very important. Friedericks says soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for agronomic crops. Soil that is more acidic, or alkaline, than that affects what nutrients are available to your crops. Soil testing for pH is important, and fortunately, it is possible to improve acidic soil with lime.
For crop producers who irrigate, soil pH and salts can be a concern. “Irrigation water can be a major source of salt which can cause soil pH issues,” he says. “Salt can lower soil pH or bicarbonates in the water can raise it. If you have all the nutrients and micronutrients your plants need but the soil pH is off, then they cannot take up what they need from the soil as easily.”
Check micronutrient levels. It’s the little things that count. Keeping micronutrients in balance is important, Friedericks says. For example, zinc is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the Corn Belt, and it is essential to several plant processes including seed formation. Soil testing can identify when a deficiency might occur.
Keep in mind that some nutrient deficiency symptoms are hard to identify. Lack of manganese mimics iron deficiency, and sulfur and nitrogen often appear to have the same deficiency symptoms. When correctly identified through plant tissue testing, however, adjustments can often be made to fertilizer applications in time to have a positive impact on harvest yields.
Friedericks says the timing of plant tissue testing for micronutrients is important.
Sample early in the season and consult a sampling guide to know what part of the plant to collect. Pay attention to the details; it will help you reach the end of the season in the best way possible.
“Share the love.” Increasing the soil’s organic matter content, preventing erosion, balancing soil pH and checking micronutrient availability are four great ways to start improving your soil health and help increase productivity. “We all need to be doing all we can to ‘share our love’ with the soil and make it as healthy as possible,” notes Friedericks.
For more information on soil health, plant tissue testing, tips on manure application or micronutrient tech bulletins, check out agsourcelaboratories.com.
Source: AgSource Laboratories