This is what farmers and landowners must know about soil quality
April 5, 2021

This is what farmers and landowners must know about soil quality

Every farmer and landowner wants to get the most production out of their farm operations. But to accomplish this, land quality and soil quality must be preserved. Without a high level of soil quality, farm fields struggle to produce at a level that provides the profits and return on investment needed to stay in the farming business.

That’s why soil quality and a knowledge of this topic is essential for everyone who is involved in the farming industry. This knowledge can help give them a better chance at success in what can be a demanding business.

So, here is what every farmer and farmland owner must understand about soil quality and how it affects their land.

What is quality soil?

Soil quality can be based on many factors and often depends on how the land is being used. However, there are specific characteristics that are present in soil that can be considered of a higher quality.

According to Penn State Extension, healthy and high-quality soil has these characteristics:

  • Good soil tillage
  • Meets depth requirements for uses
  • A nutrient supply that’s sufficient to meet needs
  • Low number or no plant pathogens and insect pests present
  • Good soil drainage
  • A high population of organisms beneficial to crop health
  • Low pressure from weeds
  • Absence of harmful chemicals or toxins
  • Can withstand degradation and other poor conditions

What determines soil quality levels?

According to, soil quality is the soil’s ability to perform as needed for both people and the environment. Soil quality itself is determined by a collection of different factors.

Management practices

Assessments that measure the level of soil quality will focus on characteristics of the soil that are affected by management practices. These characteristics can be altered depending on what practices are used. Specific characteristics include nutrient status, salinity and the capacity to hold water.

Functions of soil

Soil is an important part of any land’s ecosystem. Any land, not just farmland, relies on soil for certain services, including supporting plant growth, recycling dead matter collected in the ground, regulating and filtering water, supporting structures that have been built on the land and providing a habitat to animals living on the land.

Soil quality assessments measure how well the soil can perform these functions. These assessments also look at how negative factors, such as erosion or contamination, may be affecting quality levels.

Goals of soil

People rely on soil to carry out those functions and meet specific goals, such as crop production or supporting buildings and other structures. Sometimes, soil can meet more than one goal at the same time, but these goals often come into conflict.

Soil quality can help determine how easily those specific goals can be met, while also informing whether one focus needs to be prioritized over another.

Withstanding disturbances

Soil of a higher quality level is also able to withstand disturbances that may otherwise alter its quality. This disturbance could be caused by people or by a natural occurrence. If the soil is healthy, then it should be able to return to a higher level of quality following these disturbances.

High soil quality leads to better productivity

First and foremost, better soil quality translates to increased soil productivity. This is of the utmost importance to anyone who benefits from soil performance, including farmers and landowners.

Soil productivity, by definition, according to University of Minnesota Extension, is the determining factor of what types of plants can grow in any given area of soil and how well those plants can grow and thrive. It’s key to maintain a good level of soil productivity because this helps the desired vegetation take root and grow sustainably on that land well into the future.

For farmers, maintaining excellent soil productivity – and soil quality – requires an ongoing and always changing balancing act of many different factors.

Soil management can sustained, reduce or increase quality

Proper soil management is key to ensuring a certain level of quality is maintained over time. Good soil management can improve and sustain a desired level of soil quality, while bad management can accomplish the opposite and actually reduce quality.

As far as farming is concerned, many modern conservation practices can help restore or increase soil quality levels on farmland. Many of these conservation practices have helped reduce erosion over the years and even increase the amount of organic material found in soils, per the USDA.

Poor management can lead to erosion

On the other hand, poor management can achieve the exact opposite and lead to lower quality levels. A lack of knowledge and understanding about what management steps are better for soils is the primary culprit for decreased soil levels.

Pushing soil to its limits for either crop production or other human demands can also cause this outcome.

Compaction is another quality issue

In addition to erosion, farmers and landowners must be aware of how compaction can decrease soil quality on their land. Compaction, according to the USDA, occurs when too many salts, nutrients and chemicals accumulate in the ground.

Overapplication of certain materials in farming practices, such as nutrients and pesticides, and too much tillage are common examples related to agriculture. When these two examples occur, the soil can become compacted and less able to absorb and hold water. The result is often crops that are less healthy and increased runoff from farmland.

Erosion quickly harms soil quality

Erosion is one of the most significant ways soil quality levels are lowered. Erosion causes the all-important layer of topsoil to be reduced or removed from land.

Soil that has suffered erosion has less organic material, decreases the depths that roots can take hold and harms the soil’s water holding capacity.

Cotton Grave can help you meet your goals

Soil quality is just one of the many areas in which the Cotton Grave Farm Management experienced team can help your farm operation. We offer a wide range of management services, including tenant selection, crop share management, cash rent management, financial management and more.

Learn more about what we can do for you to help you meet your personal goals by contacting us today.

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