Record yields will take more nutrients from the soil than an average year, so the Natural Resources Conservation Center is talking about soil health for not only next year but years to come. The state of soil can be well determined by its ability to hold together, as the natural glues and organic matter within help maintain pores and channels in the soil for air and water to enter and move through. Jeremy Ziegler, a soil scientist for NRCS, ran a couple soil tests to show the effects of tillage on soil health.
Listen to Bobbi Jo’s interview below.
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The slake test is where a soil aggregate is placed in water to see if the soil will hold together. The non-tilled sample did hold, whereas the tilled sample did not. The organic matter, globulin, is able to stay glued together when not tilled. The rain test simulated rainfall, and the water was viewed after it had ran through the soil to see how much runoff occurred. Not much water was absorbed into the conventionally tilled soil, shown by how the water left in the pan was considerably murkier than that of the non-tilled soil. Ziegler explained that this demonstrates rain’s inability to do its job of being absorbed by the plant, but rather goes to waste.
When farmers till, the soil particles are broken up, releasing a burst of energy that nourishes the crops. However, Ziegler says this added value is short lived as it breaks apart the natural glues like globulin. Over time, the organic matter nourishing the plants is lost, and there becomes less nutrients for the plants to take in. He attributes the continued practice to simply tradition. There have been countless studies showing the damage of tillage, so he believes all that is continuing the practice is the fact that it’s always been that way, and change takes time.
Seven years is the approximate time it takes to return tilled soil to its natural state. Ziegler acknowledges that it may not go well the first year but will benefit the operation in the long-run. The NRCS is available to do soil tests to find the areas a field is in most need of aid and nurture it as much as possible. Cover crops and other methods will help protect the soil during the off season until the soil has recovered.