Thursday, July 31, 2014

Healthy People and Healthy Soils
January 23, 2014 by John Parker | No Comments

People like to enjoy good health. They take steps, such as a healthy diet and exercise to maintain their health. Then when they dont feel…

People like to enjoy good health. They take steps, such as a healthy diet and exercise to maintain their health. Then when they dont feel good, they go to the doctor to see what is wrong. The doctor will check their vital signs such as weight, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. The doctor will check our vital signs such as weight, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. He or she may go further and order some blood testing to help find the problem.

Local farmers are the same way with their soils, the land in which they plant their crops. They want healthy soils to grow the best crop yields. Healthy soils are essential if they are going to produce the food needed down the road.

Soils are a living, breathing and life giving substance. They are home to worms and all kinds of organisms that wiggle, squirm and crawl. Others people cant see, but they are there. Most are important, while a few are serious pests.

Healthy soils are darker, crumbly and porous. When they are tilled or worked up, they have a sweet, earthy aroma. Unhealthy soils may have a sour smell or one, as someone said, somewhat like a kitchen cleanser.

One way farmers check on their soils is to dig a little and look at some of these things. What is the soil color, structure and texture and the smell? By digging a little, they can learn a lot.

Area farmers and those across the country follow several practices to encourage healthy soils. One of the most popular is no till or minimum till cultivation. This practice means fewer trips across the fields with less packing of the soil. It prevents erosion and is cheaper than conventional plowing where the soil is turned completely over.

Another practice becoming more widely used is planting cover crops to keep a cover on the soil. Several different crops are used and one popular one is some type of legume. This plant not only provides cover, but also can have deeper roots and increase soil nitrogen.

Keeping the soil covered during the year helps. Cover crops do this along with leaving the stalks and residue from the combine after the fall harvest. Applying livestock waste helps, but this needs to be done before the ground freezes. And odor can sometimes be a problem.

Applying livestock waste also adds organic matter that is essential for healthy soils. Cover crops also add organic matter.

Soil testing is another important practice followed by most farmers. They know lime and fertilizer are essential and soil testing tells them how much to apply. Too much is expensive and unnecessary and not enough can mean poor crop yields.

Many farmers rely on information from agronomists hired by local lime and fertilizer dealers to help solve soils problems or decide lime and fertilize amounts or other healthy soils practices. Good soils information is also available from Ohio State University Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service or Soil Conservation District.

Many farmers have developed a healthy soils management plan that they follow to maintain healthy soils. This gives them a road map to follow.

Yes, farming is a complicated business when one considers all the decisions to be made about just the soils in which crops are planted. Add to that all the livestock management, equipment and other decisions and one soon knows it requires good management to be successful.

Local farmers work hard at practicing that good management.

Parker is an independent agricultural writer.

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