How to find Soil Health, Soil Health Indicators

Introduction: Hello farmers it is very important to know about soil condition for better yield and suitbale crops. Today we talk about how to find soil health for your agriculture and gardening needs to improve soil health conditions. Soil provides ecosystem services critical for life that is soil acts as a water filter and a growing medium. It also provides habitat for billions of organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight several diseases. However, you must know about how to find soil health condition for better commercial yield of any crop. What are we waiting for? Let us find soil health for your crop.

A step by step guide to how to find soil health

Humans use soil as a holding facility for solid waste, filter for wastewater, and foundation for cities and towns. Finally, the soil is the basis of our nation’s agroecosystems which provide us with feed, fiber, food and also fuel. You must find soil health before planing for any commercial farming.

Soil health

Soil health is also referred to as soil quality. It is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This definition mainly speaks to the importance of managing soils so they are sustainable for future generations. To do this, we want to remember that soil has living organisms that when provided the basic necessities of life that are food, shelter, and water to perform functions required to produce food and fiber.

Soil Health Indicators.
Soil Health Indicators.

Soil health is analogous to the concepts of environmental health, human health, plant health, and also animal health. Because human health is a functional concept that describes the capacity to function, to interact with each other and our environment, and to do this into the future. It is the condition of the soil in relation to its potential capability to function within the ecosystem and land-use boundaries. Soil health is productive, sustainable, and profitable.

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Soil health is widely used within discussions on sustainable agriculture to describe the general condition or quality of the soil resource. Meeting the climate change challenge to agriculture wants good soil health. Physical, chemical, biological, and ecological soil health will helps build resilience to climatic variation. Additionally, the soil is fundamental to mitigating agricultural emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, and also carbon dioxide.

Find soil health indicators

Soil health indicators could provide an assessment of how well the soil functions. Though the properties that constitute healthy soil are not the same in all situations, there are some important soil properties that indicate soil health. Soil health indicators can be physical, chemical, or biological properties, which in turn influence the processes or characteristics of the soils.

The categories do not neatly align with the different soil functions, so integration is necessary. Out of all the properties, the soil organic component or system is the most important because of the profound influence it has on the soil’s physical, chemical, and biological properties. Therefore, many of the steps taken to develop soil health focus on improving the soil organic matter status.

Soil health assessment

Soil health is an assessment of how well soil performs all of its functions and how those functions are being preserved for future use. Soil health cannot be determined by measuring crop yield, water quality, or any other single outcome. Soil health cannot be measured directly, so we evaluate the indicators.

Indicators are measurable properties of soil or plants that give clues about how well the soil can function. Indicators can be physical, chemical, and biological properties or characteristics of soils. They can be morphological or visual features of plants.

Useful indicators properties

  • Indicators are easy to measure,
  • Soil indicators measure changes in soil functions,
  • Also encompass chemical, biological, and physical properties,
  • Indicators are accessible to many users and applicable to field conditions, and
  • They are sensitive to variations in climate and management.

Indicators can be assessed by qualitative or quantitative methods. After measurements are collected, they can be evaluated by looking for patterns and comparing effects to measurements taken at a different time or field.

Different ways to improve soil health

Most types of agriculture soil health can be improved through several main approaches;

  • Reducing tillage
  • Avoiding soil compaction
  • Growing cover crops
  • Better crop rotations
  • Organic amendments
  • Inorganic amendments.

You can maintain or increase soil organic matter more simply when you use reduced-tillage systems, especially no-till. Leaving residue on the surface or applying mulches, and has a dramatic impact on soil biological activity. It encourages the development of earthworm populations, keeps soil moisture and moderates temperature extremes. Any other practices that reduce soil erosion, that are contour tillage, strip cropping along the contours and terracing, also help maintain soil organic matter.

Use cover crops when soils would otherwise be bare to add organic matter, capture residual plant nutrients, and decrease erosion. These help to maintain soil organic matter in resource-scarce regions that lack possible substitutes for using crop residues for fuel or for building materials.

If at all possible, use rotations that use grass, legume or a combination of grass and legume forage crops, or crops with large amounts of residue as major parts of the system. Leave residues from annual crops in the field, or, if you remove them for feed, bedding, return them to the soil as manure or compost.

Raising animals or having access to animal wastes from nearby farms obtains you a wider choice of economically sound rotations. Those that include perennial forages make hay or pasture obtainable for use by dairy and beef cows, sheep and goats and nowadays even poultry.

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Ways to measure soil health

Healthy soil is about 25 percent air and insect microbes, earthworms, and soil life require this much air to live. The air in the soil is an important source of the atmospheric nitrogen that is utilized by plants. Well-aerated soil could have plenty of pore space between the soil particles or crumbs. Fine soil particles (clay or silt) contain tiny spaces between them in some cases too small for air to penetrate. Soil composed of large particles, such as sand, has large pore spaces and contains plenty of air. But, too much air can cause organic matter to decompose quickly.

To ensure that there is a balanced supply of air in the soil, add plenty of organic matter. Avoid stepping in the growing beds or compacting the soil with heavy equipment and never work the soil when it is wet.

Healthy soil will contain 25 percent water. Water, like air, and is held in the pore spaces between soil particles. Large pore spaces allow rain and irrigation to move down to the root zone and into the subsoil. In sandy soils, the spaces between the soil particles are large that gravity causes water to drain down and out very quickly. That’s why sandy soils dry out very fast.

Small pore spaces permit water to migrate back upwards through the procedure of capillary action. In waterlogged soils, water has totally filled the pore spaces, forcing out all the air. This suffocates soil organisms with plant roots.

Ideally, the soil should have a combination of large and small pore spaces. Again, organic matter is the key, as it encourages the formation of aggregate, or crumbs, or soil. Organic matter absorbs water and retains it until it is needed by plant roots.

Soil pH – The most suitable soils for field crops generally range between 6.3 to 7 pH levels. Soil pH above 7 is basic soils, while soils below 7 are acidic soils. An unbalanced pH level can limit the availability of phosphorous, manganese, copper, boron and zinc. Liming is a good investment but a gradual procedure because it involves a reaction between soil and lime particles. pH level is an indicator of whether the soil is acidic, neutral, or basic.

The pH level of soil indicates its relative acidity or alkalinity. A soil pH test measures the ratio of hydrogen (positive) ions to hydroxyl (negative) ions in the soil water. When hydrogen and hydroxyl ions are present in equal amounts, the pH level is said to be neutral (pH 7). When the hydrogen ions prevail, the soil is acidic (pH 1 to pH 6.5) and when the hydroxyl ions tip the balance, the pH is alkaline (pH 6.8 to pH 14).

Most essential plant nutrients are soluble at a pH of 6.5 to 6.8, which is why most plants grow best in this range. If the pH level of your soil is much higher or lower, soil nutrients start to become chemically bound to the soil particles, which make them unavailable to your plants. Plant health suffers as the roots are unable to absorb the nutrients they require.

Phosphorous levels – This nutrient promotes root development and winter hardiness. When plants are deficient in phosphorus, they can appear stunted and often have an abnormal, dark-green color.

Potassium levels – These potassium nutrients aids in protein synthesis, photosynthesis, and movement of water within plants. It is a great investment to protect a crop against disease because of its ability to strengthen stalks and stems against disease. Thicker plant cells can create it more difficult for some diseases to invade plants during stressful periods of the growing season.

Organic matter – This is a key measure of soil health and soil structure. Although it’s hard to make instant changes to organic matter levels, farmers must have a long-term plan for improvement. Organic matter is a measure of all carbonaceous material that is mainly derived from living organisms. The percent Organic matter is determined by the mass of oven-dried soil lost on combustion in a 500°C furnace.

Surface Hardness – Surface hardness is a measure of the maximum soil surface (0 to 6-inch depth) penetration resistance (psi), or compaction, determined using a field penetrometer.

Soil Protein – Soil protein is a measure of the fraction of the soil organic matter which contains much of the organically bound N. Microbial activity can mineralize this N and create it available for plant uptake. This is mainly measured by extraction with a citrate buffer under high temperature and pressure.

Soil life – Soil organisms contain the bacteria and fungi, protozoa and nematodes, mites, springtails, earthworms and other tiny creatures found in healthy soil. These organisms are necessary for plant growth. They help convert organic matter and soil minerals into the vitamins, hormones, disease-suppressing compounds and nutrients that plants require to grow. Their excretions help to bind soil particles into the small aggregates that create a soil loose and crumbly.

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Cover Crops – Though not typically harvested for a profit, cover crops still give valuable services to your operation. The roots of cover crops create channels in the soil that improves its ability to take in water. Cover crops build soil organic matter, hold soil in a place that might otherwise erode, and feed soil organisms that give valuable nutrients to cash crops during the traditional growing season.

Soil health management

Soil works for you if you work for the soil by using management practices that develop soil health and increase productivity and profitability immediately and into the future. A fully functioning soil produces the maximum quantity of products at the least cost. Maximizing soil health is necessary for maximizing profitability.

Managing for soil health (improved soil function) is mostly a matter of maintaining appropriate habitat for the myriad of creatures that comprise the soil food web. This can be accomplished by disturbing the soil as little as possible, growing as several different species of plants as practical, keeping living plants in the soil as often as possible, and also keeping the soil covered all the time.

Economic benefits of maintaining and improving soil health

Some examples of the economic benefits of improving soil health;

  • Better plant growth, quality, and yield
  • Reduced risk of yield loss during periods of environmental stress (example heavy rain, drought, pest or disease outbreak)
  • Better field access during wet periods
  • Reduced fuel costs by requiring less tillage
  • Reduced input costs by decreasing losses, and by improving the use efficiency of fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and irrigation applications.

Hope you understood the improving soil health by reading this “How to find Soil Health”. Keep growing crops in good soils. You may be interested in Vertical Garden Design Ideas for Beginners.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Very useful article, which helps to clarify some misunderstandings about healthy soil and how they should be managed. I am looking forward to reading more of these articles that would help me further understand agriculture practices needed to grow vegetable crops such as onions on a large scale (100 plus acres).

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for the article. Luckily stumbled upon ur site as I needed the guidance for soil assessment. This was a very informative and helpful. Thanks a lot,appreciate ur hardwork.

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