Today’s riddle – I am weightless, but you can see me. Put me in a bucket, and I’ll make it lighter. What am I?
A good understanding of soil health is a minimum requirement for every water manager. Healthy soil is the base of a healthy food system and one of the prime factors when evaluating how much water your plants need. Of course, during the drought, our first thoughts go to rain, but soil health should also be a top consideration: the reason healthy soil captures and stores much more water.
What Is Happening To Topsoil – Across farms in the United States and the rest of the world, there is a massive loss of topsoil. Estimates range from one ton per acre to 30 tons per acre, depending on the farm’s location. It takes years (think 50 plus) to generate even a few centimeters of topsoil. It is unclear at this point how long it will take for all the topsoil to disappear, but one thing is sure, steps need to be taken quickly to conserve the soil left.
How Healthy Soil Make A Difference – According to the NRCS, better soil structure improves water infiltration into the soil, allowing the entire soil profile to take in and hold more water when it rains or when we irrigate. Healthy soil acts like a sponge holding more water than unhealthy soil.
How Does Drip Irrigation Help – It is estimated that 60% of the eroded topsoil ends up in rivers, streams, and lakes. Drip irrigation delivers water at a slow, steady pace. This reduces the amount of runoff which reduces soil erosion. In addition, drip irrigation combined with healthy soil keeps moisture in the root zone longer. This means more water is available to the plants, and less water and nutrients are leaching past the root zone into the water table. Finally, combining drip irrigation with soil moisture monitoring provides growers a view below the soil to see how much water is in the soil, making better-informed decisions on when to irrigate.
What Else Can Be Done To Improve The Situation – It will take more than drip irrigation to improve soil health. Here are additional steps to take to improve soil health which helps everyone during drought
- Reduce Inversion Tillage and Soil Traffic. Excessive tillage exposes soil to erosion and doesn’t allow crop residues to do their job. Soil compaction happens when too much foot traffic or equipment drives over the soil. This creates an environment for runoff when our goal is excellent water infiltration into the soil.
- Increase Organic Matter Inputs
- Use cover crops. They help keep soil in place and enhance organic matter levels in the ground.
- Reduce pesticide use to keep the population of beneficial organisms in your soil high.
There are many additional ways to improve soil health. You can read about them in our other articles or learn about them during our webinars and podcasts. We are also interested in what steps you are taking to improve soil health and hope you put them in the comments section below.
Answer to today’s riddle – A hole.