Over the past several years, state and federal agencies and researchers have been trying to come up with a definition for soil health. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service defines soil health as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Another definition that is embraced by many is the improved function in terms of crop yield response to inputs, such as fertilizer efficiency. Continue reading
Nitrate levels above the drinking water standard of 10 ppm are frequently found in subsurface drainage tile water or groundwater below farm fields of the upper Midwest. Nitrogen comes from applied manure and fertilizer, along with natural mineralization of organic matter.
Is there a correlation between soil health (or soil productivity) and manure? A Missouri team analyzed many soil health related variables and manure land application details, based on data collected under the Missouri Cover Crop Cost-Share Program and experimental plots. Continue reading
Empower Educators to Improve Water Quality by Adoption of Soil Health Practices
In December, I traveled to Indianapolis, IN to attend a meeting sponsored by the North Central Region Soil Health Nexus. The meeting was a kickoff to discuss a new grant the Nexus was recently awarded entitled “Empower Educators to Improve Water Quality by Adoption of Soil Health Practices.” Continue reading
Soil health management refers to the preservation and improvement in soil physical, chemical, and biological properties to maximize the productive capacity of soil. Cover crops and reduced tillage are promoted for improving soil health; however, soil amendments such as application of livestock manure and municipal biosolids have received less attention as a soil health improvement practice. A literature review, funded by the North Central Region Water Network and the Soil Health Institute, was conducted to summarize and discuss results of studies reporting chemical, physical, and biological soil properties from application of livestock manure, animal by-products (i.e. compost), and municipal biosolids and to identify further research needs. Continue reading
Farmers and ranchers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of soil quality/health to the productivity and sustainability of their agricultural system. Research and field observations have demonstrated that carefully managed manure applications can contribute to improved soil quality with limited environmental and social risks. However, a comprehensive assemblage of outputs and conclusions from research studies, field trials, soil labs databases, and other sources has never been developed. Continue reading
Tunsisa Hurisso and Steve Culman, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University
In short, the answer is usually both.
Soil organic matter is a mixture consisting of various compounds (e.g. simple sugars, cellulose, proteins, etc.) derived primarily from plants and microbes. It represents 1-6% by mass of agricultural soils, but plays a disproportionate role in soil function. Organic matter in soils acts like a sponge, holding nutrients (sequestration or stabilization) that become available to plants when organic matter is broken down (mineralization) by the collective action of the soil food web (mainly by bacteria and fungi). In addition to nutrients, organic matter also enhances the soil’s water holding capacity, making farmlands more resilient to periods of drought. In contrast, when organic matter is depleted due to repeated plowing and/or removal of crop residues from the field, the ability of a soil to hold water and nutrients will be greatly diminished. Therefore, growers should strive for both organic matter stabilization and mineralization processes to ensure short-term crop productivity and to build long-term soil resilience.
In 1987, a long-term cropping systems study started at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Three sets of 4-year crop rotations are replicated three times each year. The ninth cycle ended in 2016. This article will discuss some of the effects of using composted beef manure on soil properties and selected crop yields. Continue reading
Extension educators, crop consultants, and farmers working to improve soil health now have practical in the office or in the field resources. The new Iowa Soil Health Management Manual, Field Guide and a Soil Health Assessment Card are available at no cost.
The Iowa Soil Health Management Manual, Iowa Soil Health Field Guide, and Iowa Soil Health Assessment Card were recently published to increase understanding of soil health concept and their awareness of best management practices to protect soil health. These three publications are a collaborative effort between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and can now be ordered or downloaded for free at the Extension Store.