What farmers and investors need to know about soil productivity
January 8, 2021

What farmers and investors need to know about soil productivity

Soil. When you get down to it, it’s the basic essential of every farming operation. Without healthy soil, your farm is going to struggle to produce at a level you need to reach your business goals and achieve success.

As advances in agriculture have continued, farmers have been able to get the most out of soil productivity by increasing its fertility in a number of ways.

But what are we talking about when we discuss soil productivity? Here is an overview of soil and soil productivity basics that both farmers and investors should know.

What is soil productivity?

First, it’s important to share that soil productivity is not just something farmers are concerned with. There are others, such as those in the forest industry, who are also concerned with preserving and improving soil productivity.

That’s because soil productivity, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, influences what types of plants can grow on any given piece of land and how well those plants can grow. Good productivity helps ensure the vegetation that is wanted on that land can regenerate, survive and grow in the long-term.

From an agricultural perspective, soil productivity is focused on balancing factors that help land maintain desired production levels and also protect the environment.

What does soil productivity mean for farming?

For farming specifically, soil productivity can often be referred to as soil health. The health of the soil is what ensures a farming operation can remain both profitable for the farmer and also environmentally sound.

While farmers are always trying to get the most productivity possible from their soil and generate higher crop yields, they must also balance their efforts with environmentally conscious practices. These practices are what make sure the soil in a farmer’s fields can continue to produce at high levels year after year and well into the future.

Understanding soil’s makeup is key

What is in the soil matters when trying to maintain a high level of soil productivity. As one of the most significant resources for a farm, great care must be taken in how soil is managed. Good management can improve yields and profits, while poor management can accomplish the opposite and cripple a farming operation.

According to Penn State Extension, soil is a complex ecosystem that is made up of living microorganisms and plant roots. These work together to combine mineral particles and organic matter. The results is what PSU Extension describes as a “dynamic structure” in which water, air and the nutrients found in the soil are all regulated.

If soil is healthy, then it will support plant and crop growth. Certain agriculture practices, such as nutrient cycling, biological control of pests and regulating both air and water supply can help. Let’s go over these in more detail.

What is nutrient cycling?

Nutrient cycling is how nutrients are added, removed and changed in soil.

There are two types of nutrients found in soil, organic and inorganic. In short, healthy soil is the result of nutrients being cycled through the soil at the right times and in the right amounts in ways that decrease the amount of nutrients lost in the environment.

What is biological control of pests?

This is the natural control of pests found in the soil that would do harm to either the environment or crops. Examples of these would be predators, parasites and pathogens that act as natural enemies, according to PSU Extension, to pest organisms.

Common examples include spiders, harvestmen and ground beetles.

How does regulating air and water in soil help?

By regulating the air and water in soil, plants have access to the correct amounts of both to ensure the best growth possible, while also balancing any environmental concerns.

Test for soil productivity and health

There are many ways to make sure your farm’s soil productivity and health are kept at high levels.

One of those ways is to monitor and test the soil for pH, phosphorus and potassium. This can help you take the correct action in order to prevent yield losses due to low levels or wasted money caused by over applying. If your nutrients are at the correct levels, then your crop yields are more likely to be better.

Organic matter plays a large role in soil fertility

Although pH, phosphorus and potassium levels can be increased and decreased to improve soil health, the organic matter that is already found in the ground naturally also play a large role in determining how well a field will produce.

Organic matter, as defined by Michigan State University Extension, is made up of the various compounds in soil. These come from living organisms, such as plants, animals and microbes.

This organic matter is held within the soil. When it’s present, organic matter can help improve water infiltration and also the soil’s water holding capacity. This is why paying attention to the organic matter in your farm’s soil can come in handy during rough stretches of weather, including dry years. As MSU Extension puts it, the better the soil structure, the more likely it is that the soil will be able to withstand adverse conditions.

Organic matter can be added to soil

Though organic matter can occur naturally in soil, it can also be added. The way to achieve this is by making sure you grow productive and healthy crops and having a diverse rotation plan. This means including crops that have lots of roots, crops that produce plenty of residue above the ground and cover crops, as well.

Our team of experts can maximize your farm’s returns

Cotton Grave Farm Management is ready to help you reach your farming goals. Our team has a complete and thorough understanding of soil productivity, as well as an ability to project production potential and the rate of return from each farm. We use these skills to effectively market a farm and also to analyze potential purchases for investors.

We are ready to put our skills and expertise to use for you and your operation. Request a complimentary consultation by contacting us for more information.

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