Soil acts as an engineering medium, a habitat for soil organisms, a recycling system for nutrients and organic wastes, a regulator of water quality, a modifier of atmospheric composition, and a medium for plant growth, in other terms one of the world’s best providers of ecosystem service.
The importance of soil conservation is relatively less talked about as compared to conservation of water and other natural resources. The almost-omnipresent soil is taken for granted. We ignore its existence, disregard its importance and hardly take efforts to conserve it. We rarely even think of it as a natural resource or as a part of the natural wealth that needs to be preserved.
As soil resources serve as a basis for food security, the international community advocates its sustainable and responsible use through different types of soil governance.
The process of preparing soil for plowing is known as tilling. The process of tilling is beneficial in mixing fertilizers in the soil, making rows and preparing the surface for sowing.
No-till farming is an approach that allows crops to remain in place rather than being plowed under for a season. This practice keeps soils anchored in a place rather than being left bare and unprotected. It also prevents compaction of the soil, loss of organic matter and the death of soil organisms.
Terracing is the practice of creating nearly level areas in a hillside. The terraces form a series of steps, each at a higher level than the previous. This type of farming is done by maximizing the topography of the land to slow water flow through a series of walkways, making the soil benefits from the way the rain water flows naturally. The manipulation of the water flow protects the soil from erosion and encourages growth from moist soil areas in the farmland.
Contour plowing positions crop channels following the contour lines of the farmed area. Channels move left and right to maintain a constant height, which reduces runoff. It is effective for slopes between two and ten percent. Contour plowing can increase crop yields from 10 to 50 percent, partially as a result from greater soil retention.
Cover crops such as legumes, white turnip, radishes and other species are rotated with cash crops to blanket the soil year-round and act as green manure that replenishes nitrogen and other critical nutrients to the soil. Cover crops also help suppress weeds, prevents overgrowth of pathogens and lack of fertility in the soil.
Watering of the Soil
The best time of the day to water your soil is early in the morning, when the evaporation is low. Watering in harsh sunlight can dry out the soil. In the late evening, watering can cause the growth of fungus.
Watering your soil along with plants and vegetables is very important as this helps to not only nourish the soil but to protect it. Moist soil is not in danger of erosion due to wind activity.
Maintaining Soil pH
The pH levels in the soil can be affected by a number of things including pollutants and acid. Purchasing a soil tester is a good way to monitor your soil’s levels. This also allows you to learn what needs to be added to ensure healthy soil and conservation. The uptake of nutrients by plants also depends on the pH of soil. Maintaining the correct value of soil pH, is thus essential for soil conservation.
Mulch is a covering placed over soils to protect it from both water and wind erosion and help the soil retain water content. Mulch also serves as a good source of nutrients for plants and helps them sustain in times of drought and dry weather. Mulching is a good practice for conservation of soil moisture, maintain soil temperature and minimize erosion.
Windbreakers are sufficiently dense rows of shrubs, plants and trees at the windward exposure of an agricultural field subject to wind erosion. Evergreen species provide year-round protection; however, as long as foliage is present in the seasons of bare soil surfaces, the effect of deciduous trees may be adequate.
Tree planting is a simple method of soil conservation that encourages healthy soil and water absorption. As the tree grows tall, its roots become even more secured in the soil and as the roots of trees spread deep into the layers of soil, they hold it tightly, thus preventing soil erosion. This planting process not only acts as a windbreaker but also protects the soil against water erosion. The soil is protected in numerous ways because of the existence of the tree.
Monitoring the areas that cows and other animals graze is important. This helps to prevent depletion of the soil. It also addresses the issue of hoof damage, which can occur to the soil.
Buffer strips help hold stream banks intact during times of flooding. They also prevent runoff from entering waterways. Buffer strips can include a mixture of grasses, shrubs, and trees.
The salinity of soil increases due to excessive accumulation of salts in the soil. This has a negative effect on the metabolism of crops. The salinity of soil is detrimental to the vegetative life in it. The death of vegetation leads to soil erosion. Hence, salinity management is an indirect way of conserving soil.
Promote Helpful Soil Organisms
Nitrogen-fixing and denitrifying bacteria are major constituents of the nitrogen cycle. They live in soil. Bacteria and fungi help keep the soil healthy. Organisms like earthworms help decompose organic material in the soil, aid soil aeration and help it maintain porosity. Rodents help soil the same way. This increases the soil’s absorbing capacity. Earthworms, through soil aeration enhance the availability of macronutrients. These organisms boost soil fertility and help in soil conservation.
Conservation is done through efforts applied right now. The broader goal for these efforts leads into the future. Everyone working together can protect the soil and enhance its natural fertility benefits.