Improve soil to boost your crops and profits

With another growing year approaching, experts advise farmers know their soil to get the most out of their fields.

“It’s a living system and the organisms that live in that soil can really help us out, but we have to help them out as well,” says David Burton, a professor at Dalhousie University’s plant, food, and environmental sciences department.

Soil testing

Soil sampling and analysis are vital to understanding available nutrients and the fertility program required to maximize economic yields, says Jocelyn Velestuk, a Saskatchewan farmer and agronomy consultant at Western Ag.

How soil sampling and analysis help in understanding available nutrients and the fertility program required for best economic yields. Tweet this

“Nutrient balance is important to growing a healthy crop that has a lower chance of disease and is more competitive with weeds,” adds the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association president.

Velestuk points out that nutrients change from year to year, depending on the previous years’ crop uptake, precipitation and management, making benchmark site choices important to understanding how soil functions over time.

Also, test different fields and even areas within fields separately. They are likely to vary in their fertility and therefore need different levels and types of nutrients, says University of Saskatchewan soil fertility professor and agrologist Jeff Schoenau.

Organic matter

“One of the things we’re doing is encourage a broader concept of soil testing that encompasses both physical and biological aspects of the soil in addition to the chemical,” adds Burton.

Low soil organic matter is affecting the physical structure of the soil and its ability to hold water, highlighting the need for practices other than providing nutrients to plants in order to build up soil organic matter.

“We’re looking at things like cover crops, adding animal manures, reducing tillage, as ways in which we can try to promote more organic matter in the soil,” says Burton.

Schoenau lauds manure’s efficacy in improving organic matter content and fertility in soil, but warns against excessive tillage and burning: “You don’t want to open that soil up to erosion by wind or water.”

Soil cover

Burton emphasizes the importance of covering soil as much as possible.

“Leaving the soil bare over winter is not a good thing,” he says. “Ensuring that there’s continuous cover is a very effective way of stimulating the biological activity in the soil and maintaining soil organic matter.”

Perennial forage crops provide additional organic matter to the soil and improve structure, Schoenau says.

A three-year perennial forage crop can return more than twice the soil organic matter as annual crops like cereals or pulse crops.

Bottom line

Soil experts say testing soil is the best way to best adjust management and fertility programs for the highest yields and profits. Additional steps of using cover crops and animal manure, as well as reduced tillage, also add nutrients to the soil.

Article by: Richard Kamchen