Healthy Soil, Healthy Yields

Many agronomy publications talk about soil health, fertility, soil management, and natural additives to improve soil health," said Craig Gustafson, Federated's eastern division agronomy manager, but what is healthy soil?

To understand what makes soil healthy, it's necessary to understand what destroys soil health. "That could be a long list of possibilities," said Gustafson, and he went on to describe what can improve soil health:

  1. Tillage. While working the soil is important, don't overwork it. Multiple tillage trips across the field in the spring disrupts soil microbes. These are living organisms that make nutrients available to your crop, which translates into yield. Overworking the soil also increases the possibility of erosion and soil loss, reduces water holding capacity, and increases the possibility of compaction.
  2. Soil Acidity (or pH). Acidic soils are like battery acid; living organisms cannot survive inside a battery. Such is your soil; beneficial soil microbes cannot survive in acidic soil conditions. The loss of soil microbes means a loss of the natural mode of transportation for crop nutrients to the plant roots. When this take place, soil health is reduced and so is yield. The addition of a high-quality ag lime will sweeten the soil.

Soil health is measured through a soil health test. Gustafson offered an example from his own farm in Osceola, WI. He pulled a five-acre composite soil sample in the fall of 2015. "The last time this field was tilled was 1999, and it has been in a corn and soybean rotation. [The soil health test] looks just like a normal soil test with the addition of what is called a Soil BRAN test. This is the measurement of biological respiration and nitrification." (See attached soil health assessment from Midwest Laboratories.)

So then, Gustafson mused, "What do I do with the information? Great question." He continued, "Soil health testing is relatively a new tool in the tool box, and we are still learning how to interpret the results. Next step would be to resample this area in the fall of 2018 and compare." Healthy soil is undeniably the best soil.

For further information regarding soil health, contact your nearest Federated Agronomist and discuss crop management options to improve soil health.

"And," Gustafson added, "think safety this spring as the planting season arrives."