What Technology is Needed to Properly Develop and Maintain Soil Health
Cultivating healthy soil is the most beneficial thing you can do for your crops. At its best, soil is an ecosystem filled with fungi, healthy bacteria and organic matter. Healthy soil protects plants from pests, reduces weed growth and sustains healthy crops year after year.
Unfortunately, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides disrupt soil health. They kill valuable fungi, upset soil’s ecological balance and lead to nutritionally-bankrupt food. Years of farming with these methods have bleached American soil of the nutrients and organic matter it needs to thrive. Here are three ways you can use technology to replenish and maintain soil health.
Before you can amend your soil, you need to test it. You can work with your state extension to get a professional analysis of your soil’s acidity and nutrient levels. Soil pH affects how many nutrients your plants are able to absorb and whether they’re affected by toxic metals. If the nutrients aren’t there to begin with, you need to restore them and amend pH levels.
For the most accurate results, it’s important to take soil samples from several different parts of your land. You can test these separately or submit them mixed together for a better understanding of your soil’s current condition. Usually, you can get results back in a few weeks.
Some farmers are using infrared spectroscopy to determine soil health. Spectrometers use light to determine the soil’s moisture, temperature and chemical makeup. This method is quick and doesn’t require you to physically dig up samples. However, you do need special software to interpret the results.
There are several ways you can help depleted soil recover its ecological health. Many agricultural professionals supplement their soil with fertilizers, compost and lime. If you use fertilizer, it’s essential to choose an organic brand. Synthetic fertilizer will disrupt ecological balance and only make your soil more unhealthy over time.
Use compost and cover crops to fill your soil with healthy organic matter. Soil that’s rich in organic matter is better equipped to regulate pH levels. A healthy pH unlocks minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that help plants thrive. These nutrients promote root growth, protect against disease and increase production. In very acidic soils, heavy metals like manganese and iron become available and can poison plants.
Most plants prefer a soil that’s slightly acidic, at a pH level of six to seven. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime to improve the pH level. It’s important to test your soil’s pH before adding lime, as too much alkalinity can be harmful too. When the soil has the right pH level, plants are able to access and absorb essential nutrients. As your soil regains its ecological health, pH and nutrient levels will begin to balance out.
Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of controversy over tilling. Many farmers use tilling to loosen the soil and turn in fertilizers. However, a better understanding of soil structure suggests that tilling can be destructive over the long term. It disrupts existing tunnels from worms and plant roots and compacts the ground underneath machinery.
This means that new plants have to work harder to extend their root systems. Tilled soil also has a tendency to dry out and increase water run-off. Finally, synthetic fertilizers can negatively impact the mycorrhizae, or fungal systems that live underground. Mycorrhizae partner symbiotically with plants to protect them from disease and increase their absorption of nutrients in the soil.
It can take several years for soil to recover from tilling practices. Although farmers may wish to stop tilling, many can’t wait for their land to recover. Instead, some farmers are simply reducing their tilling to improve their soil health. In combination with cover crops and crop rotation, less tilling can improve topsoil structure and plant health.
Invest in Healthy Soil
Healthy soil is the foundation for crops that are productive and resistant to disease. Instead of relying on fertilizers and pesticides, choose organic farming principles that will increase the ecological value of your soil year after year. With the right support, your soil can recover its natural balance and unlock healthy moisture and nutrient absorption.
With the help of technology, you can discover your soil’s current condition quickly. Amending your soil is easy with farm machinery and organic supplements like lime and cover crops. Consider reducing your tilling methods to create a healthier soil structure. Don’t forget to be patient – soil recovery takes time, but the results are worth years of effort.
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