Soil conservation is a key concern to farmers since it is vital not only to use land productively reaping high yields but being able to do so in the future as well. The effects of soil conservation may not reveal in the short-time perspective, yet they will be beneficial for future generations. Different methods of soil conservation help to mitigate erosion, keep fertility, avoid degradation, and minimize nature pollution due to chemicals by applying integrated weed and pest control techniques. Thus, soil conservation strategies greatly contribute to the sustainability of the environment and resources.
What Is Soil Conservation And What Does It Focus On?
Soil conservation is a set of farming techniques and practices to avoid degradation, erosion and depletion in particular. Soil conservation methods target long-term use with a thought of the future. By taking proper and timely actions, farmers boost the performance of their fields for the years to come.
A major objective of conservation of the soil is maintaining its biodiversity of inhabiting eco-communities that contribute to its fertility in their own ways. They add organic matter, split perished organisms to release nutrients, improve water infiltration, and aeration. Ensuring proper conditions for living bodies in the earth is vitally important for vegetation that grows there since microorganisms adjust the organic matter for plant needs.
Different types of soil conservation methods prevent earth runoff, pollution, sedimentation in water objects, and protect bare surfaces from cracking and erosion due to water, wind, and excessive heat.
Soil conservation strategies rely on three basic steps:
- Obtaining proper knowledge of the land resource use.
- Monitoring fields and detecting critical zones.
- Controlling and estimating the efficiency of applied soil conservation techniques.
Why Is Soil Conservation Important?
The earth is the primary condition and environment for crops that nourish humans as well as domestic animals and wildlife. Since the majority of plants can’t exist without earth, it is significant to use this resource sparingly. The approach enables us to have enough food in the future, and material for technical needs, for example, household textile or fuel.
The importance of soil conservation also relates to water supply, and earth layers function as natural filters to improve water quality. In its turn, water is necessary to dissolve nutrients for plants. Wise usage of land resources ensures its availability for the next generations, and thus affordable prices for food in the future. Another aspect is the aesthetic side, as abundant vegetation scenery pleases the eye far more than devastated and abandoned areas.
Benefits Of Soil Conservation
Humankind in general and farmers in particular benefit from numerous advantages of soil conservation. This agricultural practice contributes to sustainability in a number of ways:
- Boosts earth quality and productivity. Maintaining the natural environment for earth-dwelling organisms increases fertility and reduces the necessity of chemical fertilizing, thus boosting yields and saving costs at the same time.
- Mitigates erosion. Soil conservation methods to reduce erosion and depletion help agriculturalists to avoid the expansion of new lands when territories become infertile.
- Promotes water infiltration and increases its storage. The soil conservation technique of minimum tillage vs. conventional plowing affects soil moisture by reducing cracking and evaporation as well as rising the infiltration rate.
- Aids air and water purification. The importance of soil conservation relates to water supplies, and the earth functions as a natural filter to purify water. Soil conservation mitigates the concentration of pollutants and sediments. In its turn, water is the basic condition to dissolve nutrients for plants. Soil carbon sequestration and reduced chemical applications contribute to air purity, too.
- Gives food and shelter for wildlife. Land with growing vegetation is a living environment for animals; it is not only the source for nourishment but their home as well.
Soil Conservation Practices
Different types of soil conservation methods ensure long-term usage of land and keep it productive for future generations. Let’s consider their benefits in regard to soil conservation.
The conservation tillage aims at addressing wind and water erosion by covering the earth with vegetation (either crops or their residues) and limiting the number of tilling operations. Another significant aspect is to choose the proper time for field operations, depending on the soil types. For example, clay ones are better to till after harvesting while other types are better to plow before seeding. Also, handling wet soils leads to their compaction.
No-till farming assists in soil conservation as well since it implies no or minimum disturbance and planting seeds into the crop residue. The basic idea is not to leave soil bare, as bare areas are highly prone to erosion, and plants keep it in place with their root systems. Additionally, vegetation accumulates moisture for future crops.
The soil conservation method proves efficient in slope territories and suggests planting species along the contour. Rows up and down the slope provoke soil erosion due to water currents while rows along the contour restrain it. An impact of terracing is similar: it also helps to conserve soil and reduce its degradation processes.
In this case, farmers combine high-growing crops with low-growing ones for the sake of wind protection, like when corn grows in strips with forage crops. The strip cropping practice works even better when high-growing crops are intensified in the sides where winds blow most frequently. An extra benefit is the organic matter material from the low crops.
As the name suggests, this soil conservation practice is used to reduce the power of winds and its disruptive effect on soil. These are trees or bushes to shelter crops from snow and winds planted in several rows. Depending on the number of rows, we can distinguish windbreaks properly (up to five rows) and shelterbelts (six and more).
Windbreak vegetation also provides a living environment for wildlife and eliminates soil abrasion on crops due to strong wind blows.
Crop rotation vs. monocropping farming suggests changing agro species instead of planting one and the same for many subsequent seasons. Farmers applying this soil conservation method reap numerous benefits. Crop rotation helps them improve the earth structure with diverse root systems, to mitigate pest establishments, and to add nitrogen to the land with legumes known as nitrogen-fixing plants.
The choice of crops to rotate is specific for each agricultural enterprise and highly depends on historical weather and productivity data. Some plants proved to be efficient in recent years, and some did not. Such information is available on EOSDA Crop Monitoring alongside daily weather and forecasts up to two weeks ahead, including precipitation, min/max temperatures, and anticipated risks. Furthermore, vegetation indices such as NDVI, MSAVI, NDMI, and ReCI help to inspect crop health at each growth stage. With this toolkit set, EOSDA Crop Monitoring assists in comprehensive analysis of the field and crops states.
This soil conservation technique is another way to avoid bare soils and additionally benefit from planting cover crops – secondary species – in-between growing cash crops for different reasons like to:
- produce forage and grazing material for cattle;
- provide green manure;
- assist in weed control;
- retain moisture;
- ensure a natural environment for microorganisms and minor animals;
- balance nitrogen concentration (either releasing or accumulating it with certain plants).
These are trees and bushes on the banks of water bodies to prevent sediment, water wash offs. Their roots fix the soil to avoid slumping and erosion, canopies protect from excessive sunlight to water inhabitants and falling leaves are a source of organic matter and food of minor aquatic animals.
A grassed waterway is just what it is called. This is a furrow for water streams covered with grass. It is connected to a ditch, pit, or current to collect water, and the grassroots keep the earth in place, protecting it from water erosion, and thus contributing to soil conservation.
Step Away From Synthetic Fertilizers And Pesticides
Chemicals application to control weed and pest infestations are harmful to the environment and undesired in soil conservation. This is why switching to alternative ways to address the problem is highly important in agriculture and organic farming in particular. These alternatives are biological and cultural options when fertility is restored with green and animal manure, compost, crop rotation, and other methods of non-chemical control.
Integrated Pest Management
Pests are a great nuisance to agriculturalists and have been a major issue to tackle while chemicals poison nature leaking to water and the atmosphere. It is important to eliminate synthetic herbicides replacing them with organic ones or establishing biological enemies of pests whenever possible, rotating crop species to minimize increasing pest populations in the same field for years, and using alternative techniques in complex.
Soil Conservation With EOSDA Crop Monitoring
The key goal of soil conservation is protecting it from degradation in any way, including depletion of fertility and erosion. The main task in reducing erosion is to cover lands with crops or residues to avoid bare areas since they are highly subject to disruption due to winds, the flow of water, and rain splashes.
In respect to the conservation of the soil, EOSDA Crop Monitoring helps farmers to reveal bare territories in time so that they could keep their lands fertile and productive as long as possible. The online software assists in field scouting and can point out critical areas relying on satellite-retrieved data. Once the problem is suspected, farmers can assign tasks to scouters via the mobile application to check it with a human eye, monitor the task completion, and take proper actions.
Combined possibilities of remote sensing, mobile gadgets, and the EOSDA Crop Monitoring software enable agriculturalists to grasp the situation on the spot. Equipped with credible information on the crop state, they can make prompt and well-grounded decisions.
Vasyl Cherlinka has over 30 years of experience in agronomy and pedology (soil science). He is a Doctor of Biosciences with a specialization in soil science.
Dr. Cherlinka attended the engineering college in Ukraine (1989-1993), went on to deepen his expertise in agrochemistry and agronomy in the Chernivtsi National University in the specialty, “Agrochemistry and soil science”.
In 2001, he successfully defended a thesis, “Substantiation of Agroecological Conformity of Models of Soil Fertility and its Factors to the Requirements of Field Cultures” and obtained the degree of Biosciences Candidate with a special emphasis on soil science from the NSC “Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research named after O.N. Sokolovsky”.
In 2019, Dr. Cherlinka successfully defended a thesis, “Digital Elevation Models in Soil Science: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations and Practical Use” and obtained the PhD in Biosciences with a specialization in soil science.
Vasyl is married, has two children (son and daughter). He has a lifelong passion for sports (he’s a candidate for Master of Sports of Ukraine in powerlifting and has even taken part in Strongman competitions).
Since 2018, Dr. Cherlinka has been advising EOSDA on problems in soil science, agronomy, and agrochemistry.