Soil fertility key to success in crop production

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Combines are rolling all across the area now, gathering in the result of this year’s work and investment. Yields will vary from one field or farm to another for many reasons, but the most likely “common denominator” will be soil fertility. There will certainly be stories (or excuses) about other things, but the least forgiving of them all is the soil’s ability to supply crops with the nutrients and water required to produce the seed and fiber we harvest.

Those of us who studied crop production were taught that nutrient availability and soil quality were critical for growing all kinds of crops, and those who grew up farming were taught or should have learned this basic principle from experience and observation.

Still, it seems that some who should know how critical this principle is still fail to employ it well enough to allow crops to perform at their potential.

A short list of reasons crops fail to receive sufficient nutrients might include factors related to poor drainage, economics, failure to test the soil and supply the needed materials, logistics in not being able to get the required applications done, and other “real” issues. However, the most common reason many fields do not perform to their potential is lack of appreciation for the importance of this part of the production system.

The best farmers produce the best crops. This fact has been proven to me many times during the four decades I have worked closely with growers, first as a consultant, and now as an Extension agronomist. The most obvious example of this fact is seen when a farm fails to produce for one grower, then another brings the land back to peak production through management and proper fertilization. Another example may be when a grower is forced to accept land that no other grower wants, but is able to make it produce as well or better than any in an area. There are examples like this in every region, but the reason for them is often not seen as improved soil management and fertilization which is the usual fact.

In a year like this, a common complaint is that drought is the reason for poor yield. This can certainly be true at times, but its validity comes into question when growers farming side by side harvest very different yields. As I have said in the past, good soil fertility and management allow the soil to supply crops not only with nutrients but with water as well.

Correct soil management and fertilization allow plants to produce good root systems, and for the natural soil systems such as mycorrhizae to aid plants in securing the nutrients and water needed for good yields. When weather is ideal these natural processes may not be as critical as when drought or other adverse conditions arrive, but when the going gets tough the best soil quality and fertility will produce the best crops.

Excuses don’t matter when the bills don’t get paid.


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k s sandhu    
india  |  September, 19, 2013 at 09:45 AM

It is very true that soil fertility is the key for successful crop production.At the same time, water plays an important role of making the nutrients present in the soil in soluble form and the plants can easily take them up.So, for assured success they (nutrients and water)should go hand in hand.

Carl Spiva    
Modesto, CA  |  September, 22, 2013 at 12:41 AM

Reducing fertilizer rates because of a short water supply is a very poor decision. The application of P, K, and most micronutrients should be at normal rates regardless of moisture; they aren't going anywhere if not taken up by crops. Nitrogen might be reduced in a low moisture year, based on local information.


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