The soil works for you when you work for the soil, using management practices that improve soil health and increase productivity and profitability immediately and in the future. A fully functioning soil produces the maximum amount of production at the lowest cost. Maximizing soil health is essential to maximizing profitability.
Managing soil health (improved soil function) is primarily a matter of maintaining a suitable habitat for the myriad creatures that make up the soil food web.
This can be achieved by:
– To disturb the soil as little as possible
– Grow as many different plant species as possible
– Keep live plants in the soil as much as possible
– Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
Try to disturb the soil as little as possible, soil disturbance is the result of physical, chemical or biological activities. Physical soil disturbance, such as tillage or riding results in bare soil and/or compacted soil that is destructive and disruptive to soil microbes. In doing so, it creates a hostile environment for them to live in.
Misapplication of tillage can disrupt the symbiotic relationship between fungi, microorganisms and plant roots.
Overgrazing, a form of biological soil disturbance, reduces root mass and increases precipitation run-off and increases soil temperature. All forms of soil disturbance reduce the habitat of soil microbes and result in a diminished soil food web.
Plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, which serve as building blocks for roots, stems, leaves and seeds. They also interact with specific soil microbes by releasing carbohydrates (sugars) into the soil through their roots to feed the microbes in exchange for nutrients and water. Vegetable carbohydrates are needed to support the diversity of soil microorganisms in the soil. To achieve a high degree of diversity, different plants should be grown as polyculture.
The key to improving soil health is to ensure that food and energy chains and webs are made up of different types of plants, not just 1 or 2 species.
Biodiversity is key to soil health and to the success of any agricultural system:
A lack of biodiversity increases the risk of diseases and pests. A diverse and fully functioning soil food web provides nutrients, energy and proper water circulation, allowing a soil to reach its full potential.
Increasing diversity and covering crops improves soil health and function, reduces input costs and increases profitability. – Niek Bloemendal
Maintain live root growth all year round:
Living plants retain their rhizosphere, an area of concentrated microbial activity around the root. The rhizosphere is the most active part of the soil ecosystem because it is where most of the food is available and where the peak in the nutrient and water cycle occurs. Microbial food is secreted by plant roots to attract and nourish microbes that provide nutrients to the plant at the root-soil interface, where plants can absorb them.
Soil health depends on how well the soil food web is nourished. Providing enough easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them get the nutrients the plants need to grow and process. Sugars from living plant roots, recently dead plant roots, crop residues and soil organic matter nourish the many members of the soil food web.
“Always strive for a mini rainforest and protect and nourish the soil with it” – Ado Bloemendal
Keep the soil covered as much as possible:
Ground cover retains moisture, lowers temperatures, intercepts raindrops, suppresses weed growth and provides a habitat (mini-rainforest) for members of the soil food web. This applies regardless of the land use. Keeping the soil covered while allowing crop residues to break down (so that their nutrients can be returned to the soil) can be a balancing act. Livestock farmers must carefully consider crop rotation and grazing management if they want to keep the soil covered and feed at the same time.
“Grazing losses become a growth advantage because it feeds the soil” – Ado Bloemendal