The guiding principle of soil health is that it’s a process, not an event. Whatever issues you encounter this year, it’s important to remain dedicated to a good soil health program. Healthy soil is the foundation from which all farm success is built. A proactive soil health program can protect a farm from the deep valleys of production that can result from unfavorable weather or the effects of other forces beyond your control. When faced with obstacles like drought, flooding, and low crop prices, keep soil health a priority for the following year. By approaching the process methodically, you can avoid paying a fortune while giving your soil the ingredients it needs to nourish healthy crops.
For most of my life, I have heard this claim anytime it gets dry in June. It seems to be a pervasive belief, repeated across the Midwest from Texas to Minnesota and from Nebraska to Ohio: “If it’s a dry June, the roots will grow deep into the soil looking for water.” Not only is this untrue, but it is scientifically unreasonable. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain what really happens.
Improving soil health in a profitable way is a challenging task. If landowners and farmers had endless supplies of money, achieving good soil health would be easy. To successfully enhance both soil health and profitability, operators need a plan, accurate data to assess progress, and the agility to make changes to their soil health management strategy when needed.
Over the last dozen years or so, the number of new agronomic products like specialty fertilizers, additives, enhancers, chemicals, seed treatments, and biologicals being introduced to farmers has been mind-boggling. Various new technologies are introduced into the ag industry each year, making rather lofty claims of increasing yields and profits. One could think that, if we just use every new product, our yields will go through the roof. Common sense, however, tells us that is impossible. So, how do we figure out which new products will be good investments and which won’t? It’s not my place to slander or name specific products that may or may not work; however, there are specific methods you can use to find out for yourself, without a lot of pain, how a new product will work for you.
If you think about it, soil is much like the human body. Nutrients for the soil, which are necessary for plant health, come from fertilizer and other inputs. Nutrients for our bodies come from the food that we eat. Both our bodies and the soil need nutrients like potassium, carbon, oxygen, phosphorus, and iron to be healthy. These nutrients, plus many more, are required in different amounts and at different times to achieve optimal health.
Surviving Trying Times in Agriculture
I am a product of the 1980s. I grew up in the rather mild agricultural times of the 70s. 1980 arrived, and things in the ag world turned upside down.
One of the questions I have been asked most often in recent years in regards to soil and plant health concerns the use of fungicides. The other day a client asked, “Do fungicides work?” When I answered in the affirmative, he asked, “Does using them make money?” The answer: Maybe. Utilizing fungicides to make more money for your crop is not a sure bet. There are so many variables to consider that there is no one correct answer. In this encounter with my client, he described to me his experience in 2015, when the fungicides he used merely paid for themselves. Well, that’s not why we are in this game.
Topics: Soil Health
Fertilizer can be one of your largest per-acre expenses. Too many operations make fertilizer decisions based on four-year-old data or crop removal assumptions. Making assumptions is fine when it’s the only thing you can do. But in fertilizer decisions, there is an easy solution to having accurate, timely information, and that is pulling soil samples on an annual basis.
One of the most recent buzz phrases going around agriculture is the term “soil health.” Many involved in agriculture, from input suppliers and equipment companies to media and educators, soil health, has become the new “cu degras” or the pinnacle of accomplishment for agriculture to now consider. Almost appearing as a new discovery, there is much more focus being placed on soil health as the new key to unlocking the power of the soil. However, the study and application of methods to improve soil health is nothing new. Some of the techniques used in enhancing soil health have improved, but the idea is still the same.