If you pick up just about any farm publication there are typically several articles that talk about soil health.
Many times, these articles talk about adding cover crops and livestock into cropping systems to improve the soil. There is no question, that if implemented correctly, these strategies can provide a lot a benefit, but they are just only part of an integrated system that we need to use to improve soil health.
My concern is that focusing on just of couple of these practices, which seem to get the most media coverage, we may not be paying attention to, or thinking about other ways to improve soil health. We need to remember that they are just tools in our soil health toolbox and when used for the right job they work great.
But there is also a wide array of other tools in that box that that also need to be considered to improve the health of the soil, and more importantly profitability.
Getting a balanced fertility program on track is a good place to start.
By using the 4Rs concept, meaning we are 1) using the right product, 2) putting on the right rate, 3) applying it at the right time and 4) putting it in right place we can efficiently apply the nutrients that the crop needs.
This all starts with soil testing.
Like the advertisement says, "if you don’t test, it just a guess." What little a laboratory soil analysis cost it’s a no brainer to soil test your fields on a regular basis.
Soil pH also needs to be maintained at optimum levels.
A pH level, that is either to high or to low, effects nutrient availability to plants.
In other words, you could be putting on the right amount of fertilizer the crop needs but if your pH is out of balance the crop can’t utilize those nutrients.
A composite soil sample and a $20 soil analysis can help you figure out where your pH levels are.
From there you can come up with a long-term strategy to get everything in balance.
Consider eliminating, or at the very least, reducing the amount tillage operations that you complete. Tillage destroys stabile soil aggregates and the disrupts the soil biology that helps form and maintain them.
A field with poor soil aggregate stability will have a low water infiltration and be prone to soil erosion.
In western Kansas cropping systems, everything is dependent on the amount of moisture we can capture and store in the soil and tillage reduces our soils ability to do that.
If aren’t already doing some of these simple, cost effective practices I urge you to consider using them to improve the health or your soil.
But more importantly consider using them to increase your farm’s profitability.
Yes, implementing some of these strategies cost money, but its all about return on investment. You may have to spend a couple hundred dollars to get soil samples pulled and analyzed but you might save several thousand dollars in fertilizer if you do.
For more information about these and other soil health practices you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or any local NRCS office.