Low soil fertility can cause terrible problems. Therefore, learning ways of improving soil fertility for farmers is vital. Just as humans need a balanced diet to grow healthy and robust with the proper nutrients, crops depend on fertile soil to develop and produce.
What is Soil Fertility?
Soil fertility refers to the quantity of organic matter present in the soil, which plays a vital role in supporting plant growth. It’s about more than just having enough nutrients; it also involves having the right pH level, a good soil structure, and the ability to hold water properly.
Also, it includes the soil’s inherent capacity to supply plants with essential nutrients in suitable amounts, in appropriate ratios, and without harmful substances.
Ways Of Improving Soil Fertility: Your Guide
Spreading mulch on the soil forms a protective layer that keeps the soil moist. This is important because crops need water to grow, and mulch helps to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly.
It acts as a barrier that stops weeds from growing. Weeds are unwanted plants that compete with the crops farmers want to grow for nutrients and sunlight. By blocking their growth, mulch helps your plants get more of what they need.
The decomposition of mulch contributes organic matter to the soil, providing nourishment for it. This infusion of organic matter enhances the soil’s structure, improves its water retention capabilities, and supplies vital nutrients for plant utilisation.
In addition, mulch acts as a shield, safeguarding the soil against erosion caused by wind or water that might otherwise wash away the topmost layer of soil.
Kelly Tillage firmly believes in minimum/shallow tillage due to its numerous advantages.
If tillage is practised quite frequently the microbial activity inside the soil gets disturbed. Microbes, together with water and air, play a vital role in ensuring the fertility of your soil.
The soil food web is like a community underground, filled with tiny living organisms like bacteria, fungi, worms, and bugs. They all work together to make the soil healthy by decomposing dead plants and animals and turning them into nutrients for plants.
These organisms are like helpers for your crops, creating a balanced system of growth and fertility.
However, we upset this delicate balance when we unnecessarily disturb the soil by tilling. This can lead to problems like diseases and pests, as the natural cycle of the soil gets disrupted.
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Their unique design allows them to operate at a consistent and shallow depth, making them highly efficient for weed control and soil levelling.
Growing Cover Crops
These crops shield the soil from erosion caused by rain and wind, safeguarding its structure and nutrient composition. Cover crops increase organic matter levels by incorporating plant residues into the soil, leading to improved soil structure and enhanced water-holding capacity.
Moreover, such crops contribute to nitrogen fixation, enriching the soil with this vital nutrient. Additionally, their extensive root system penetrates deep into the soil, alleviating compaction and enhancing aeration, ultimately facilitating better nutrient absorption by subsequent crops.
It refers to transforming the nitrogen gas in the air into a form that crops can use to grow. If there isn’t enough nitrogen available, plants may not grow well.
The help of specific bacteria found in the soil can convert nitrogen gas from the air into a usable form that plants can absorb and utilise for their growth.
The clay content is another crucial factor to consider when assessing the soil’s Cation Exchange Capacity.
Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a metric used to measure the soil’s ability to retain plant nutrient cations like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It measures the total negative charges present in the soil, which are responsible for adsorbing and holding onto these essential cations, making them available for crop roots to absorb.
The CEC of soil is determined by the quantity and type of soil colloids that are available. Soil colloids are tiny particles with a negative charge, allowing them to attract and retain positively charged ions called cations.
Soils with low clay content are more susceptible to nutrient loss through leaching. This means that the nutrients in these soils can easily be washed away by water movement.
In contrast, soils with a higher CEC have a greater capacity to hold and store nutrients, ensuring they are available for plant uptake.
Organic matter significantly boosts soil fertility through various mechanisms. When materials like compost, plant leftovers, and animal manure are added to the soil, they break down slowly, releasing valuable nutrients essential for crop growth and development.
This gradual release ensures a steady supply of crucial elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, supporting healthier and stronger plant growth.
Moreover, organic matter enhances soil structure by forming pore spaces, improving soil aeration and water retention. These spaces enable plant roots to efficiently access oxygen and water, facilitating better nutrient absorption.
Organic matter comes from rotting plants and animals which provides food for living things in the soil. It plays a crucial role in forming diverse-sized aggregates that facilitate improved gas and water exchanges within the soil. Organic matter has three main parts: the living, the dead, and the very dead.
Life In Soil
The “living” part of organic matter includes all the tiny organisms that live in the soil, such as bacteria, fungi, algae, and larger creatures like moles, rabbits, woodchucks, and plant roots.
They have an important part to play like breaking down dead plant and animal matter, which releases nutrients that crops need to grow.
Earthworms have a sticky substance on their skin, which acts as a natural glue to bind soil particles together. They also help by digging tunnels that enhance water infiltration thus making the soil healthier. So, these little living beings play a big role in keeping the soil alive and fertile!
Within this category lie the plants’ residue, animals, and microorganisms that have reached the end of their life cycles and become integral to the organic matter present in the soil.
As these organic materials undergo decomposition, they play a crucial role in the creation of humus, a dark, nutrient-rich material that significantly improves the soil’s structure and fertility.
Humus has excellent Cation Exchange Capacity and binds to essential plant nutrients. It slowly releases these nutrients, reducing the leaching risk. It can also shield plants from harmful compounds and improve soil structure and water retention.
Furthermore, the dead plant roots, leaves, and other organic leftovers act as essential food for the living creatures in the soil. This helps them stay active and keeps the cycle of life going on smoothly.
In conclusion, making the soil fertile is crucial for successful and sustainable farming. This involves using organic materials, providing the right nutrients, managing water well, rotating crops, and avoiding harmful chemicals. When farmers take good care of the soil, they ensure plentiful harvests, protect the environment, and create a brighter future for generations to come.