Monitoring soil health provides two-fold benefits for farmers. Soil health is key to crop productivity and getting the best yields possible every year. It’s also beneficial for the environment. Andy Knepp of Monsanto says taking care of soil and keeping it healthy will benefit a farmer’s bottom line.
“If you think about wheat that soil is really designed to do, it’s to really create a nice rooting environment. So, when we improve the health we improve the physical and biological properties of those soils. That just really means that the plants can develop better roots, improve their water uptake, improve their nutrient uptake. All that leads to better plant growth and actually yield potential down the road. So, we’ve seen great improvements in terms of drought tolerance when we have really healthy soils. There’s lots of really good things we can see coming from a crop productivity standpoint.”
Healthy soils also absorb water much more readily, which reduces runoff from farm fields, thereby preventing nutrient loss and soil erosion. Farmers have adopted a couple of practices to help improve soil health, including no-till, which has increased over the last twenty years.
“The USDA estimates that crop land erosion has been reduced by forty percent just by implementation of no-til,” Knepp said. “From a practical standpoint what we see is farmers taking fewer trips across the field, certainly a fuel and labor savings, and then we also see improved physical structure of the soil as well as improved biological health of the soil with beneficial microbes and earth worms, things we typically associate with an active and living soil that are really improved. The other thing we really see starting to take off is cover crops. They’re gaining a lot of popularity and there is a lot of discussion about cover crops. It’s a system, a different way of farming in terms of trying to keep something on that field growing as much of the year as you possibly can.”
Knepp says there’s also a weed-control benefit to cover crops. Monsanto is a founding member of the National Soil Health Partnership, a cooperative that’s led by farmers.
The Soil Health Partnership is trying to promote even more widespread use of the optimum practices to improve the nation’s soil health. For more information visit www.SoilHealthPartnership.org.