Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

We inspire and partner with our community to protect the natural resources and agricultural future of our District.

New Hope in Healthy Soil

A new, seven-part video series explores how an increasing number of farmers throughout the country are creating a new hope in healthy soil by regenerating our nation’s living and life-giving soil.

The video series is designed to help consumers, educators and students understand some of the important principles and practices behind the growing soil health movement.

Source:  USDA NRCS, February 23, 2016

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Healthy Soils Taking Climate Center Stage in 2016

As CalCAN mentioned before, the Governor has proposed $20 million for a Healthy Soils Initiative. Various state programs are increasingly funding healthy soils as well. CalCAN recently outlined the Department of Water Resources Proposition 1-funded program, which has recognized improved soil organic matter as a strategy for enhancing the water holding capacity of soils. Similarly, in their most recent granting round, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Statewide Energy and Efficiency Enhancement Program (SWEEP)—currently funded at $40 million—considers beneficial soil management practices as valuable water savings and greenhouse gas reduction activities.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a flurry of activity around the topic of healthy soils in California.

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Source:  Elizabeth Smoker, CalCAN, February 16, 2016


Regenerating degraded dirt

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It’s hard to find a bare spot on the more than 800 acres farmed by Cory Atkins of Seaford, Del. Even in the dead of winter, a carpet of ankle-high ryegrass blankets the soil where he plans to grow soybeans in the spring. In other fields, wheat and barley sown last fall poke through the dirt next to remnants of sunflowers, clover, and radishes.

“These cover crops hold the dirt in place and put nutrients back in the ground,” Atkins says. They also increase soil organic matter—the dark material, called humus, in the top layer of dirt. That layer contains cellulose, starch, lignin, and other molecules from the decomposition of plants and animal residues, plus a slew of biochemicals produced by earthworms and other organisms that live in soil.

Atkins is part of a small but growing group of farmers and agriculture specialists working to improve the health of degraded soils by increasing soil organic matter. As well as planting cover crops, these conservation-minded growers are adopting no-till practices that don’t disturb the soil. Tilling has negative effects on earthworms and other soil organisms, restricts the downward flow of water, and leads to rapid decomposition of organic matter into carbon dioxide, according to scientists at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some growers are also adding soil amendments—including compost, manure, and a charcoal-like substance called biochar made from pyrolysis of biomass—to soil to increase organic matter.

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Source:  Britt Erickson, Chemical and Engineering News, March 7, 2016.

 


Soils and Plant Roots

Sustaining agricultural productivity relies on maintaining a soil environment to support the growth of healthy roots.  Because roots are not immediately visible, their importance is often overlooked.  A number of biological, chemical, and physical stresses in the soil can impair root function and have an immediate effect on plant growth.  Boosting water and nutrient use efficiency by roots is an important key for enhancing sustainable agricultural production.  A few important root and soil interactions are highlighted in the following article.

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Source:  Robert Mikkelsen, Better Crops with Plant Food, International Plant Nutrition Institutem Vol. XCIX (99) 2015, No. 1.


Grazing with dung beetles improves soil health

Known as the “Farmers Friend,” the dung beetle returns fresh cattle dung pads back to the earth, building soil and recycling nutrients.

Dung beetles return over 90 percent of the nitrogen in cattle dung back to the soil, which then improves the forage uptake of valuable minerals, phosphorus and sulphur by 80 percent, saving the farmer money on unnecessary fertilizer.

The tunneling action of dung beetles improves plant root development, forage production, and the soil’s water infiltration capacity, resulting in less water runoff and pollution loading in a watershed.

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Source:  Troyce Barnett, Farm and Dairy, January 28, 2016