WHAT IS SOIL HEALTH?
The ability of a soil to produce the desired outputs with minimal inputs.
Defined by the capacities of the physical, chemical, and biological components present.
Changing over time along with temperature, precipitation, soil life, and uncontrolled nutrient deposition.
Affected by management choices including crop inputs, equipment use, tillage, and residue management.
Can be directed towards different outcomes related to environmental quality, human and animal health, and most immediately to crop production.
Soil health is an emergent property that arises from a set of interacting factors. Like the term soil quality, soil health status will be reflected in overall crop productivity. However, soil health also considers the many dynamic connections between soils and the other ecosystem components, including the farmer. Farmers need to focus on the marketable outcome of good soil health, i.e. crop productivity under varied growing conditions, but to profitably improve it, they also need to understand the different factors that influence the expression of soil health, how we can measure each of those factors, and how management decisions affect those properties that determine yield on their farm.
At Ag Spectrum, we help farmers develop their understanding of the soil properties that limit crop growth. That way, our customers can make better decisions on the properties they manage. At times, this may involve incorporating some sort of soil health test into their management toolbox. Most often, though, it involves educating our customers about how different management choices affect different soil properties, so that they can make better and more profitable choices that improve, rather than degrade, soil health. The Maximum Farming System® improves productivity by improving the physical, chemical, and biological factors that contribute to soil health.
Soil health can improve across a range of soil types and environmental conditions.
What do you learn from Ag Spectrum representatives and scientists visiting your farm during the growing season?
“So when these people show up to go look, let’s grab a spade and go walk around and see something. We start digging up roots. Here’s what you see. This is too shallow, that looks good. . . But then you get into these roots are good because of this and that … But the point is your soil health. You work on soil health. These products help with this. These practices help with that. You get bigger roots. you get bigger corn stalks, you get bigger plants, you get bigger yields!”
Jeff, Ag Spectrum Customer
“It’s about getting better all the way through harvest. We’re finding the right balance in the soils.”
Rick Johnson, Ag Spectrum Area Customer
Enhancing plant health and vigor is accomplished through proper timing and placement of nutrients, and it begins with a healthy soil. A fertile soil environment encourages uptake of nutrients, particularly if nutrients are available at planting time. Once appropriate soil structure is established, the next priority is to awaken microbial life.
Beyond water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen, plants need mineral nutrients to live and grow. Timely applications of fertilizers, in the right amounts and in the right placement are essential to ensure optimal growth. Adding nitrogen fertilizers is a big part of that, but the form and placement of nitrogen inputs is critical to maximizing yield. Other fertilizers can be added to soils, but those essential elements can also be readily obtained from the soil, particularly when soil biology has been effectively stimulated.
Some fertilizers can also enhance soil fertility by improving soil physical properties. For example, Gypsum has been shown to reduce soil erosion, which allows crops to retain the nutrients that they need to grow. The key to having fertile soil is remembering that everything works best in balance, and having the right balance of nutrients will give your plant the energy it needs to grow..
Recommendations that are specific to your farm and management zones establish the right product, timing, placement, quantity, and nutrient form to improve soil health, maximize yield, and maximize farmer profits.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” says Rick Johnson, Ag Spectrum customer, when he thinks about the improvements he has seen with the Maximum Farming System. “I didn’t know that I needed to do things differently.”