For farmers, soil is where life on the farm begins. Keeping soil healthy is a top priority to ensure a bountiful crop production. To maintain soil health, farmers have to create a conducive environment that fosters populations of beneficial organisms while minimizing pests. Soil must include high levels of decomposed organic matter that allow it to retain both water and readily leachable nutrients, thereby alleviating the negative effects of drought. It is the ability of farm managers to maintain this fragile ecosystem that makes the system work. Here are various techniques that help farmers keep soil healthy and productive:
Cover crops are not grown for harvest, they are plants that are grown to protect and enrich soil. They are commonly known as “green manure” since at the end of their growth cycle, they are terminated and the decaying parts are used as nutrients. A cover crop helps protect against water and wind erosion. The leaves of cover crops protect the soil from heavy rainfall reducing nutrient runoff. Their root systems also help stabilize surface soil during heavy winds. Planting cover crops can also serve as a way to control weed growth. It serves as a physical barrier that suppresses weed seed germination.
Crop rotation is another way of keeping soil productive. It is a technique of planting different crops in the same field in sequential seasons. The basic idea is to plant leguminous crops (e.g. pulses, alfalfa, bluegrass, clover) after the cereal crops (e.g. wheat, oats, maize, rice), and then leave the land undisturbed for at least one season. Crop rotation can play a major role in minimizing nutrient leaching to surface and groundwater.
Buffer zones are areas of land, adjacent to bodies of water such as streams and lakes, where farmers plant strips of permanent vegetation between fields. Buffers slow the flow of water and facilitates the trapping of sediment, organic matter and nutrients. These nutrients are critical for the growth of micro-organisms that are vital for a healthy ecosystem. Other benefits associated with buffer zones include protecting water quality and reducing soil erosion.
Use of Biosolids
Biosolids can have significant benefits to soil fertility. They are organic fertilizers resulting from treated wastewater that contain essential plant nutrients and organic matter. Biosolids are proven to enhance the physical and chemical properties of agricultural soils which result in an increase in crop yields by replenishing organic matter that is depleted over time. Compared to inorganic fertilizers, the organic nitrogen and phosphorous found in biosolids are absorbed better by crops since these plant nutrients are released slowly throughout the growing season. They are also less water soluble and increase the soil’s ability to absorb and store moisture. The use of biosolids reduces the farmers’ production costs since there is less need to purchase commercial fertilizers. Biosolids are often sold at a lower price, and some countries even offer them for free.
Healthy and fertile soils are necessary to promote and sustain the growth of agricultural crops. By developing a good plan and implementing the right techniques, farmers can reap the full profit potential of their farm land.
If you are a farmer in the Niagara Region and are interested in considering biosolids as a potential application to your fields, please call us on 1 (877) 479-1388. There is no cost for us to apply to the MOE or to spread biosolids on your field. These costs are covered by the Region of Niagara.