Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Is Soil Health?

A twenty year friend of mine, a very good farmer, asked me, "Ed, what is soil health?"  It is a new concept brought to life by Ray Archuleta by NRCS.  He is the first soil and water man I've heard who really tries to address this issue of soil health.

 "Soil Health is the capacity of the soil to function to sustain life. A healthy soil can be used productively without adversely affecting its future productivity, the ecosystem or the environment. Soil health emphasizes the integration of biological with chemical and physical measures of soil quality (used synonymously with “soil health”) that affect farmers' profits, risks, and the environment.
Soil health deals with both inherent and dynamic soil quality. Inherent soil quality relates to the natural (genetic) characteristics of the soil, such as its texture. These qualities are the result of soil-forming factors, are generally represented in soil surveys, and cannot be changed easily."

Soil health addresses soil physics, chemistry and biology beyond soil tilth.  Tilth is friability, doesn’t mean it is well balanced, it means it crumbles and handles nicely.

 Soil health is about oxygenated soils full of life and nutrients that can grow any crop suitable for that environment.

 No one really understands soil though we are making great strides!  I now understand more what dad and grandpa were trying to do to make a living on a tenant farm.  They HAD to take care of that soil because it is old, thin, and highly erodible.  The recent discussion on Dirt and Civilization on my blog and on Crop Talk shows how this concept is finally starting to gain attention and maybe sink in a little!

Soil health addresses beneficial bacteria and fungi most of us know little about.

 We all have so many crops left in us.  10?  I hope so!  A local farmer had his plans changed yesterday when a widow maker fell while cleaning fence rows, crushed his chest and killed him.

We must be profitable and long term profitability and sustainability has to address soil health in my thinking.  Otherwise we would be like the tenant farmers moving from farm to farm until the “soil ran out.”  Farmers are concerned about conditions today that remind them of the Dust Bowl of the 30's.

I hope this makes a little sense.
Ed Winkle


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