World Soil Day 2020 December 6, 2020 20:50
Hey everyone, this weekend, on December 5 was INTERNATIONAL Soil Day and I wanted to share my view on the topic.
Soil is just one of the many moving parts in nature and agriculture. We cannot have agriculture and therefore food, without taking care of the natural environment. Whether that is vegetation or water or the soil. Our family and our farm have always valued the natural environment and how it is a complex system. We do what we can, to maintain soil health while also being productive.
We have done this in the past with managing cattle through rotational grazing. This means that each pasture has ample time for the grass species to grow and more importantly they have time to establish a robust root system which is a major factor in soil health. The root system provides homes for millions of soil microbes and organisms: visible ones would be worms, beetles, and centipedes. The roots also create pathways through the soil particles which promotes water filtration during rain events. Having more moisture move through the soil instead of over the land promotes growth of grass and other vegetation. Increasing the amount of vegetation and organisms increases the amount of organic material. Higher organic material is one of two factors that improve the water holding capacity of soil (the other being soil texture). If we manage the land correctly we can increase organic material thus increasing the water holding capacity of our soils which increases the longevity and sustainability of our land.
Within the past year everyone in our family has contributed to a land purchase. The intent for each parcel is to be immediately productive and contribute to paying for itself. With each new purchase, we are making observations of natural water pathways throughout the year, i.e. creeks, swales and spring water run off. This provides us with a good guideline on the productive capacity of the area as well as the optimal usage of certain areas. One example is allocating low land areas with moderately thick trees, and light amounts of grass throughout for late summer grazing. We will keep cattle out during the winter, spring and early summer to help protect the trees from being browsed and damaged and allow the small vegetation time to mature. By late summer the root systems of the small vegetation is well developed and can sustain the plant through a grazing rotation and the trees have had time to grow strong new branches.
Late summer grazing is ideal to reduce the amount of soil compaction we create. By July, the spring water flow has had time to dry up and the soil to harden so that the cattle will compact less. Soil compaction is a negative outcome of poor grazing management. We do our best to minimize and avoid soil compaction because it reduces the amount of water that can infiltrate the soil. Water infiltration is an important contributor to underground water flow, allowing us to drive on the land without damaging it. As well, underground water is a major source of water for rural homes. Reduced infiltration causes more water to run over the soil surface into streams, creeks and rivers. This causes erosion and can contribute to more extreme flooding events.
Soil health is extremely important to so many agriculture activities. There is so much under our feet, from roots, rocks and decaying plant matter to water movement, insects and microbes. All of it plays a part in sustaining food production for the benefit of everyone. We do our best to maintain and improve the soil health on our land not just for our own farm production but also for all water systems and life above and below ground. Taking care of a plot of soil no matter how big or small contributes to the soil health for future generations.
(with help from Andria and Briana)