what is soil management?
Soil management refers to the use of activities, techniques, and treatments to protect and improve the performance of soil (such as soil fertility or soil mechanics). Soil conservation, soil amendment, and optimal soil health are all part of it. In agriculture, both nonorganic and organic soils require some level of soil management to avoid agricultural land from becoming unproductive over time. Organic farming, in particular, emphasizes optimal soil management because it relies entirely or almost entirely on soil health for fertilization and pest control.
Soil management is a key technique for combating climate change by increasing soil carbon, as well as other serious environmental challenges linked with modern industrial agriculture methods. Three important soil management approaches are highlighted as actionable activities in Project Drawdown.
Impact on environment when we manage our land
Agricultural soil management practices can result in the generation and release of nitrous oxide (N2O), a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Fertilizer use, irrigation, and tillage are all things that can contribute to N2O emissions. Over half of the emissions from the agriculture industry are due to soil management. Through methane emissions, cattle livestock are responsible for one-third of all emissions. Emissions are produced via manure management and rice farming. Biochar has the potential to reduce N2O emissions from soils by up to 54%. In the agricultural area, the use of artificial fertilizer causes a nutritional imbalance in the soil.
Specific soil management practices that affect soil health include:
- Controlling traffic on the soil surface helps to reduce soil compaction, which can reduce aeration and water infiltration.
- Planting cover crops that keep the soil anchored and covered in off-seasons so that the soil is not eroded by wind and rain.
- Crop rotations for row crops alternate high-residue crops with lower-residue crops to increase the amount of plant material left on the surface of the soil during the year to protect the soil from erosion.
- Nutrient management can help to improve the fertility of the soil and the amount of organic matter content, which improves soil structure and function.
- Tilling the soil, or tillage, is the breaking of soil, such as with a plough or harrow, to prepare the soil for new seeds. Tillage systems vary in intensity and disturbance. Conventional tillage is the most intense tillage system and disturbs the deepest level of soils. At least 30% of plant residue remains on the soil surface in conservation tillage. Reduced-tillage or no-till operations limit the amount of soil disturbance while cultivating a new crop, and help to maintain plant residues on the surface of the soil for erosion protection and water retention.
- Adding organic matter to the soil surface can increase carbon in the soil and the abundance and diversity of microbial organisms in the soil.
- Using fertilizers increases nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium in the soil. The use of fertilizers influences soil pH and often acidifies soils, with the exception of potassium fertilizer. Fertilizers can be organic or synthetic.