Soil is an integral part of any ecosystem. It is where all the plants and trees get the required nutrients. No species can survive without soil. This is why soil becomes a big concern when it becomes unfit.
Soil conservation is the need of the hour, not just for farmers who are entirely reliant on soil for their livelihood, but also for the sustainability of our earth’s biodiversity. High-quality, well-nourished soil offers significant benefits for farmers in the form of high yields and contributes to the stronger root hold for sustainable support.
The strategies involve alleviating the effects of soil erosion and improving overall fertility by minimizing soil degradation and soil pollution by integrating new age food technology and science with proper pest- and weed-control methods.
What is soil conservation?
Soil conservation involves the application of certain farming practices that focus on tackling soil erosion and degradation. The techniques involved primarily focus on conserving soil for future generations.
An essential factor that soil conservation mainly targets is the maintenance and preservation of local biodiversities that eventually impact soil fertility.
Farmers and soil conservationists help improve the fertility and productivity of soil while mitigating the impact of soil erosion and degradation.
Practices that Accelerate Soil Degradation
Stable and fertile soil is essential to our survival. Recently, it has been subjected to a lot of damage, primarily because of climate change and poor farming techniques. However, there are other factors that contribute to soil degradation.
Food growers use various types of chemicals to accelerate crops’ growth rate and improve their quality. However, such chemicals do more harm than good as they cause soil contamination and can even enter our food chain. Apart from this, chemicals also badly affect and kill a crop’s beneficial insects and birds.
Overuse of Land
Land overuse includes rampant deforestation, monocropping, and overgrazing of pastures which can subject soil to an accelerated risk of erosion. In the long run, this can result in arable land becoming unusable.
In the last few decades, many farmers have entirely switched to growing just one type of crop yearly, which in simple terms is known as monocropping. Extensive use of land to produce only one kind of crop results in nutrient deficiencies in the soil, which can lead to soil fertility loss.
Benefits of Soil Conservation
Soil conservation aims at improving soil fertility which benefits farmers. To start with, the overall yield is improved, which translates to better profits. In addition, air- and water quality also improve, substantially reducing soil erosion and improving soil quality.
If the soil is fertile and has the right balance of nutrients, crop yields increase. In addition, fertile land rarely needs fortification with chemical fertilizers, which again boosts production and proves to be highly cost-effective as farmers do not need to spend money forchemical fertilizers.
Soil conservation helps reduce soil erosion which in turn aids in combating deforestation. As more land turns infertile, farmers are forced to resort to land expansion which can be stopped with soil conservation techniques on existing farmland.
Helps Water Infiltration
Plowing is an intensive tillage technique that may worsen the soil structure. The soil’s moisture level is decreased, leading to the soil drying out and cracking. On the other hand, soil conservation involves no-tillage practices which help the soil retain moisture better and promotes water infiltration.
Helps Purify Water and Air
Soil acts as a natural filter that helps in water purification. In addition, soil conservation techniques reduce sedimentation and pollution, which could otherwise find their way into marine waters, which can prove detrimental to aquatic life.
Provides Food and Shelter
Soil that produces vegetation acts as a good food source for all kinds of organisms while also sheltering them from foreign elements.
Farm Fertility Maintenance with Soil Conservation
Soil is a mixture of three different elements: living organisms, organic matter and minerals. Aside from providing nutrients to different microorganisms, soil also shelters them.
When it has a balanced amount of nutrients and moisture content, soil helps plants grow and promotes productivity. However, it gets degraded when soil is subjected to chemicals, overuse, overgrazing, and effects from climate changes.
Soil degradation adversely affects food production. Soil conservation promotes sustainability.
– No tillage
Tilling is the method of turning the top layer of the soil for easy planting of seeds. While it may ease things for the farmer, it is a practice that promotes soil erosion.
Traditional tillage can move up to 10 inches of topsoil, leaving it bare. Bare soil is susceptible to loss of nutrients and has a decreased ability to hold onto water.
No-tillage farming reduces the loss of nutrients and moisture as the residue crop is left on the top layer. Then, the planting of seeds is done into the residual remains of the crop.
– Terrace farming
In hilly areas, the ideal way of farming is using the terrace farming technique. Because rainwater quickly washes down from hilltops to lower areas, farming in hilly and mountainous regions can be challenging.
Terrace farming involves building platforms that look like steps into the slopes of the hills, which helps rainwater pass nutrients from one step to the next.
farming helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients, thereby increasing its fertility levels and reducing soil erosion.
– Contour Farming
Just like terrace farming, contour farming is also ideal for hilly areas. However, contour farming differs because instead of making platforms, the natural contours of the slopes are used for planting.
This method helps create artificial water breaks that allow water to settle into the top layer of the soil without running down the slope. Because the topsoil is left intact, fertility is increased, allowing plants to grow easily. This type of farming also mitigates soil erosion.
– Crop Rotation
Another way soil conservation helps maintain soil fertility is through crop rotation. Crop rotation means planting different types of crops each year during the growing season. This is different from monocropping, which is the planting of just one type of crop each season which depletes nutrients in the soil, thus reducing its fertility.
Crop rotation helps boost soil fertility as different kinds of crops are planted each year. Along with improving soil fertility, the nitrogen level of the soil is also increased when nitrogen-fixing crops are planted.
It is a sustainable way of farming that improves overall soil health while also bringing down costs, as there is minimal need for using fertilizers. This, in turn, reduces pollutants and chemicals in water, thus improving its quality.
Cover crops are non-cash crops that are mainly planted to avoid leaving the soil bare. These types of crops boost soil fertility, reduce soil erosion, weeds, and pests and improve the overall quality of the soil. Some cover crops include alfalfa, cowpeas, rye, mustard, etc.
Adapting New Farming Technologies
New farming methods like hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics do not contribute to soil erosion because they employ soil-less cultivation. Besides, new food technology and science in farming are actively combating the stress to improve soil fertility and ensure healthy and secure food production.
Soil that is managed in an unsustainable way releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which can worsen the effects of climate change. Soil conservation aims at improving the quality of soil and increasing its fertility.
Soil conservation should be a major concern for everyone and not just the farmers, as growing food will continue as long as humans live on this planet.
Soil that is nutrient-rich and fertile will help farmers efficiently grow crops and meet the demands of the ever-growing population. Not only does soil conservation help boost soil quality and fertility, but it also helps improve air and water quality.
When it comes to innovation in our soils it is cool that both UofA, ASU and local ag tech companies like http://www.MyLand.ag are making a positive impact on soil health