Home Discussion Forum Soil Health Defining soil health

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of John Wallendal John Wallendal 2 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #622
    Profile photo of Matt Ruark
    Matt Ruark
    Participant

    The concept of soil health is very broad and we only talk in terms of generalities. E.g. health soil is better, faster infiltration is better, increasing soil aggregation is good, increasing soil organic matter is good. Some soil tests, such as the Cornell Soil Health Assessment, attempt to use chemical, biological, and physical tests to identify limiting factors to soil health. But once we get past this point, we don’t have an indication of what will happen if you attempt to increase your limiting aspects (e.g. increasing infiltration, increasing active carbon).

    What we are interested here is what farmers or crop consultants think about soil health – or specifically – what do you think about when thinking about healthy soil? Is it connected to water, nutrients, tilth, a combination of things? Getting farmer’s perspectives on this topic will allow us to focus in on management recommendations to achieve specific outcomes related to the soil condition.

    So – what are the key components to soil health for you?

  • #628
    Profile photo of John Wallendal
    John Wallendal
    Participant

    I like the holistic approach Cornell University has taken. Check out their website for the soil health handbook. It features a multi faceted scoring system. My concern is the fuzzy nature of soil health claims. As soil health concerns become more main stream farmers will have to express their farms attributes with more certainty to lending institutions, governmental boards, concerned citizens etc. We also need to look for short term and long term returns on investment which have more certification than currently available.

    I believe this means more intense and replicated on farm research. How we do this is problematic as the are a plethora of variables within the omnipresent temporal nature of farming.

  • #633
    Profile photo of Matt Ruark
    Matt Ruark
    Participant

    Agreed. I do like that soil health tests include measures of the physical condition of the soil – probably one of the most under measured aspects of soil. The future of nutrient management will include both adaptive N models (adjusting N recommendations during the growing season based on rainfall) and baseline N adjustments based on metrics of soil health. We know that certain management practices can increase N mineralization from the soil, but we don’t account for this in any way for N recommendations. I’d call this a baseline shift in the optimum N rate – but we haven’t identified the best measurement or group of measurements that can help us with this. To me this is the holy grail of soil N research and will take some time.

    What it probably means is less overall field trials, but more intensive sampling within each field trial.

  • #702
    Profile photo of Dave Olson
    Dave Olson
    Participant

    Is it not true that soil health cannot be defined by some of these tests alone. By this I mean soil health really is a factor of so many things that maybe we can’t define it by numbers alone. For example: Would it be proper to say that there are many different types of microorganisms, microflora, bacteria, mycorrhiza fungi, earthworms, beneficial nematodes, etc. etc. all operating in a system of soil civilization that depend on an environment ideal to thrive. Have there not been studies pertaining to soil life as a measurement of soil health? If there is abundant soil life with beneficial organisms doesn’t that mean that the soil is healthy? I think this is an interesting area of discussion and is sometimes overlooked.
    Another thing is the idea of inoculating our soil. What do you think about that. (compost, purchased inoculants, etc.)

  • #703
    Profile photo of John Wallendal
    John Wallendal
    Participant

    Dave,

    I enjoy your thinking and agree Soil Health measurements are more artistic in nature. My science beliefs require a bit more firmament. I bring the subject up with concern that Lending Institutions, Governmental Agencies, and Real Estate Groups are now paying attention and attempting to put value on Soil Health claims.

    Soil amendments? Man that’s a loaded question. Both in the realm of long and short term effects. Personally I farm in the Central Wisconsin Sands. Organic Matter between 0.8% to 1.1%. For us increasing the OM % is a long and improbable venture. We have been able to increase the depth of our A1 horizon with reduced tillage and cover crops. But that has taken 20 years to accomplish. I have used beet molasses applied at a 12 gallon rate and anecdotally seen increased biological activity. Again in our sands that was short term. One spring month. I have used humates for the same purpose, with increased short term plant uptake. But with our sands I am not able to afford the price for long term change.

    Currently I am very interested in leveraging a more affordable bio-solution to inoculating and initiating long term changes. We are transitioning to Certified Organic. The direction we are going to try is presenting the soil with a diversity of plant life during the cash crop portion of the season and then a multi species living cover crop system. I am very interested in Dr. Matt Ruark work with inter planting etc. Dr. Erin Silva, also from UW has some intriguing work.

    Dave, if you are working with a higher OM potential soil i believe soil amendments can work for you giving you short term results. Whether the input dollars are equal to the output dollars depends upon the measurement system. I skirted the issue as I have not seen clear replicated results

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