Soil Health is important for all land users from large scale producers to hobby producers. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) is a vital source of information on the topic of soil quality. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) and Purdue University are additional sources of information on soil quality, as well as other agriculture news from across the state. The Purdue Extension Office has a publication about Collecting Soil Samples for Testing to guide landowners and producers in the collection of soil samples for testing before applying fertilizer and other nutrients. There is also a Soil Sampling for Nutrient Management brochure from the USDA NRCS.
What is soil health?
Soil health is “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”
Soil health is protected and enhanced by creating the conditions in the garden or farm for natural biological processes to occur. In natural (ecological) systems, organic matter is maintained, water is conserved, nutrients are cycled, and biological activity thrives.
Soil Health Principles
The soil health system is founded on 4 core principles, which motivate specific conservation practices. These 4 principles create a recipe for regenerating soil health. Keep in mind that all 4 principles work together as a system. Growers will achieve maximum soil health benefits when all 4 are in practice.
- Minimize disturbance
- Maximize soil cover
- Maximize biodiversity
- Maximize living roots
Benefits of Soil Health
When growers are practitioners of the 4 principles of soil health, there are many positive results. Good soil health benefits both people and the land. Key improvements include:
Increased plant health
Increased plant productivity
Increased soil organic matter
Increased water holding capacity
Increased soil aggregate stability
Increased water infiltration
Improved nutrient use efficiency
Enhanced and diversified soil biology
Reduced weed pressure
Reduced pest pressure
What conservation practices can help improve soil health?
Conservation practices are methods growers can use to put the 4 principles into action on the ground. These practices are a suite of strategies that regenerate soil heath and include:
- Cover crops
- Crop rotation
- No-till or Reduced-Till
- Nutrient management
- Native and targeted plantings for beneficial insects and pollinators
Pictures used with permission from Jordan Beehler and CCSI
Educational Hyperlinks provided NRCS