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Soil Health and Management

Objective: Learners will be able to identify good soil management practices for growing productive crops.

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Good Soil Management Practices
Select each practice to learn more about it.
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(click each practice above before moving on)

Increase soil organic matter

Benefits of Organic Matter
  • Increases nutrient supply (N, P, and S)

  • Improves soil structure and water holding capacity and ability to take up and hold water for plant use

  • Erosion prevention

How to increase soil organic matter
  • Reduce tillage

  • Reduce erosion

  • Plant grass cover crops (increase root mass)

  • Fertilize properly (soil test)

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Improve soil tilth

Soil tilth refers to the physical condition of soil in relation to its suitability for tillage, seedling emergence, and root penetration.
  • A soil with good tilth has large pore spaces for adequate air infiltration and water movement

  • Soils that drain well, don’t crust, takes in water rapidly, and does not easily form aggregates has good soil tilth

  (watch again)   How to improve soil tilth

  • Avoid working/tilling wet soil – reduce tillage and compaction
  • Employ irrigation and drainage practices that to avoid waterlogged or extra dry soil
  • Increase soil organic matter
  • Crop rotations

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Enhance nitrogen availability

Nitrogen from organic matter must be converted into a form that plants can use

Inorganic nitrogen (ammonium or nitrate) is the type of nitrogen that plants use

Soil microbes are the key to converting organic matter into ammonium and nitrate

How to enhance nitrogen availability

  • Apply soluble fertilizers

  •    - Nutrients are readily available for crop use

  • Turn cover crops into the soil for organic matter (Green manure)

  • Increase soil organic matter

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Build and maintain microbe populations

Soil microbes are important for soil health

  • Improve soil tilth

  • Digest organic materials to convert into humus (nutrients in the form the plants can use)

How to build and maintain microbial populations

  • Crop rotation

  • Plant Grass and legume cover crops

  • Apply active microbial composts

  • Maintain soil pH near neutral

  • Avoid working/tilling wet soil (avoid soil compaction)

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Suppress crop disease

Pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and viruses naturally live in the soil

Increased populations of these pathogens or increased susceptibility will cause crop disease outbreaks

Use Integrated Pest Management practices to prevent and suppress crop disease

  • Use soil and seed inoculants when possible

  • Fumigation and sterilization (also reduces beneficial soil organisms)

  • Regular crop rotations

  • Cover crops

  • Avoid planting soon after manure applications

  • Increase diversity and avoid monocultures when possible

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test your knowledge

Are you ready for a quiz?
(you will need to review all 5 solutions before testing)

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5 Question Quiz

First name:
Last name:

1. For each practice, choose either the letter B if it is beneficial to soil health or N if it is not beneficial to soil health.
B     N
Increasing soil organic matter
Regular crop rotations
Maintaining soil pH near neutral
Tilling/working wet soil
Planting cover crops
Planting monocultures
Reducing erosion
Fertilizing properly
Increasing tillage
Increasing soil compaction

2. Some undesirable soil properties can be changed or improved through good soil management practices.
    a. True
    b. False

3. Which of the following is true of soil organic matter?
    a. It is beneficial to the soil because it improves soil texture
    b. It is beneficial to the soil because it increases the supply of Nitrogen in the soil
    c. It is not beneficial to the soil because it decreases the water holding capacity of the soil
    d. It is not beneficial to soil because it increases soil compaction

4. Which of the following practices improves soil tilth?
    a. Tilling the soil when it is wet
    b. Decrease soil organic matter
    c. Irrigate and drain soil to avoid waterlogging
    d. All of the above

5. Soil microbes decompose organic materials and convert unusable forms of plant nitrogen to which usable forms?
    a. Ammonium (NH4) and nitrite (NO2)
    b. Nitrate (NO3) and nitrite (NO2)
    c. Nitrogen gas (N2) and nitrite (NO2)
    d. Nitrate (NO3) and Ammonium (NH4)

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The End

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