What is soil health and how can we improve it?
In agricultural systems, such as row cropping systems, significant stress is exerted on soil functions through management practices such as soil tillage, chemical application and continuous mono-cropping systems. However, management practices, such as soil conservation systems, including no-tillage and extended crop rotations can mitigate negative effects on soil health/functions. A no-till system can restore soil health over time by improving, for example, soil infiltration, organic matter, water storage, soil structure, etc., which are indicators of soil health. The extended crop rotations that include small grains, legumes and cover crops will increase soil biodiversity and protect the soil surface physically during the off season and provide organic carbon input. The introduction of perennials on marginal land can increase wildlife habitat and improve the biological and physical components of soil health. These practices are measures to build healthy soil, which can improve both productivity and the environment.
When the soil is managed as a natural heterogeneous ecosystem by diversifying the input of plants, animals and wildlife, we incorporate the natural order of soil generation principles that led to the forming of the soil. The challenges we face in many parts of the world nowadays are the outcomes of human activities that affect soils by accelerating soil degradation and soil erosion and decreasing water quality and quantity, which are future food security challenges. These challenges can be mitigated through thoughtful and balanced management practices that enhance soil health sustainably as the first step in establishing potential solutions for these problems.
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