Soil Conservation Methods & Benefits Of Implementation
Soil conservation is of utmost importance to farmers since productive and sustainable land management is essential to their livelihood. Good soil conservation practices can minimize soil fertility loss from erosion, salinization, or chemical pollution. Different fields require distinct land protection strategies due to the wide variety of farm management objectives and environmental factors at play. Modern agricultural monitoring methods, in particular remote sensing, make it easier and cheaper to implement soil conservation strategies in hopes of preserving land fertility for ourselves and many future generations.
What Is Soil Conservation, And What Does It Aim To Achieve?
Soil conservation is a set of farming methods and practices that keep the land from degradation, erosion, and depletion. Soil conservation management targets long-term use with an eye toward the future. By taking proper and timely actions, farmers boost the performance of their fields for years to come.
A major objective of soil conservation is maintaining the biodiversity of the eco-communities that inhabit it and contribute to its fertility in their own ways. They add organic matter, split perishable organisms to release nutrients, and improve water infiltration and aeration. Ensuring proper conditions for living bodies in the earth is vitally important for the vegetation that grows there since microorganisms adjust the organic matter for plant needs.
Soil conservation farming practices stop the ground from washing away, which keeps water bodies clean from pollution and sedimentation. Conservation also keeps bare surfaces from cracking and eroding because of water, wind, and too much heat.
Soil conservation strategies rely on three basic steps:
- obtaining proper knowledge of the land’s resource use;
- monitoring fields and detecting critical zones;
- controlling and estimating the efficiency of applied soil conservation techniques.
Threats To Soil Conservation
Most land degradation can be traced back to two things: climate change and traditional farming practices, especially:
- Slash-and-burn farming. Here, woods are burned down and cleared for new cropland. A new, undeveloped forest replaces previously cleared land when it loses its productivity. This never-ending cycle of destruction prevents the earth from recovering to a point where it can sustain life and directly contradicts the principles of soil conservation.
- Pollution by agrochemicals. Toxic chemicals from pesticides can leach into the ground and destroy plants and water supplies in the area. Extensive fertilizer application may also cause contamination; however, this one is crop- and fertilizer-specific.
- Soil compaction. When land is compacted, its long-term productivity goes down, affecting both agricultural production and the way the climate changes over time. Wheeling is a major cause of ground compaction problems in both farms and forests. This problem has gotten even worse as machine weights have gone up .
- Land overuse. The capacity of soil to contribute to the global climate cycle may be diminished by excessive land usage. Soil erosion can be exacerbated when human activities, such as excessive logging and grazing, deplete natural vegetation cover at a rate that much exceeds the normal regrowth of plants. This may lead to the desertification of once arable land.
Why Is Soil Conservation Important?
Land conservation helps grow enough food and material for technical needs, for example, household textiles or fuel. Additionally, the importance of soil conservation relates to water supply because the layers of earth act as natural filters to improve the quality of water. Aesthetics also matter, since places with lots of plants look much better than devastated and abandoned areas.
What Are The Benefits Of Soil Conservation?
Soil conservation benefits extend well beyond agriculture into all aspects of human life. Conservation agricultural practice contributes to sustainability in a number of ways:
- Boosts the land’s quality and productivity. Maintaining the natural environment for earth-dwelling organisms increases soil fertility and reduces the necessity of chemical fertilizing, thus boosting yields and saving money at the same time.
- Mitigates erosion. Farmers profit from soil conservation methods that prevent or halt land erosion and depletion, which otherwise would force them to look for new land.
- Promotes water infiltration and increases its storage. The conservation technique of minimum tillage vs. conventional plowing affects soil moisture by reducing cracking and evaporation as well as raising the infiltration rate .
- Aids air and water purification. Soil conservation mitigates the concentration of pollutants and sediments. In its turn, water is the basic condition for dissolving nutrients for plants. Soil carbon sequestration and reduced chemical applications contribute to air purity, too.
- Provides 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.
Although there will likely be some short-term inconvenience due to land conservation initiatives, the long-term benefits will be well worth it.
EOSDA Crop Monitoring
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Soil Conservation Practices
Different types of soil conservation methods ensure prolonged usage of land and keep it productive for future generations. Let’s consider how to practice soil conservation and benefit from different conservation techniques.
Conservation tillage aims to address wind and water erosion by covering the earth with vegetation (either crops or their residues) and limiting the number of tilling operations. A significant aspect to consider during conservation tillage is the proper timing 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 ground leads to its compaction .
No-till farming also assists in soil conservation since it implies no or minimal disturbance and planting seeds into the crop residue. The basic idea behind the no-till conservation approach is not to leave the ground bare, as plants keep it in place with their root systems, while uncovered areas are highly susceptible to erosion. Additionally, vegetation accumulates moisture for future crops.
This soil conservation method proves efficient in slope territories and suggests planting species along the contour. Rows up and down the slope provoke erosion due to water currents, while rows along the contour restrain it. By collecting rainwater behind ridges, the contour farming conservation method not only stops erosion, but also minimizes the runoff. Ridge tillage considerably increases the furrow storage capacity, which can be maintained by planting row crops atop the same furrow every year.
In this soil conservation technique, 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 conservation practice works even better when high-growing crops are grown in greater numbers on the sides where winds blow most frequently. An extra benefit is the organic matter from the low crops. In addition, strip cropping is one of the cheapest conservation methods available to farmers for halting the spread of sheet erosion because its costs are comparable to those of field preparation.
As the name suggests, this type of soil conservation method is used to reduce the power of winds and their disruptive effect on soil. Windbreaks are trees or bushes planted in several rows to shelter crops from snow and winds. Depending on the number of rows, we can properly distinguish windbreaks (up to five rows) and shelterbelts (six and more).
Windbreakers are commonly used to shield crops with delicate leaves or fruit from the damage caused by wind-borne particles. Windbreak vegetation also provides a living environment for wildlife and eliminates soil abrasion on crops due to strong winds.
Instead of planting the same crop year after year, farmers who practice crop rotation change the types of crops they grow. By applying this soil conservation method, they reap numerous benefits. Crop rotation helps them improve the earth’s structure with diverse root systems, mitigate pest establishments, and add nitrogen to the land with legumes known as nitrogen-fixing plants.
Planting cover crops (secondary species) between rows of cash crops is one way of promoting soil conservation. This can be done for a number of reasons, including, but not limited 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 it or accumulating it with certain plants).
These are trees and bushes on the banks of water bodies that prevent sediment and water wash-off. Their roots fix the ground to avoid slumping and erosion; canopies protect water inhabitants from excessive sunlight; and falling leaves are a source of organic matter and food for small aquatic animals.
They are called so for a reason: these are grass-covered furrows for a water stream. A furrow 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.
Grassed waterways may safely move water through fields when they are designed and built correctly. The following are some of the key benefits of a grassed waterway conservation practice:
- they are suitable for transporting runoff from extensive upstream basins;
- farm equipment can easily cross them;
- maintenance cost is minimal after vegetation is well-rooted .
Terrace farming is a soil conservation technique that entails building stepped terraces into the sides of hills or mountains to create a water-gathering system for crops. It’s a common conservation practice for growing rice. When rainwater flows from terrace to terrace, it carries with it minerals and plant life, keeping the soil healthy. Building terraces on land that would otherwise be wasted can also improve the quality of the land and make it much more productive.
Drop Inlets And Rock Chutes
Stepping water down steep inclines with drop inlets and rock chutes promotes land conservation by keeping the ground from washing away. A drop inlet consists of two parts: the inlet, an upward pipe, and the outlet, a subsurface horizontal pipe. Water enters an intake, goes into the conduit, and finally flows safely into a stream below.
A rock chute is a short, cliff-like section of a channel bed reinforced by the addition of rocks. Its common applications include conservation by halting upstream headward erosion or creating an internal weir to lower the channel’s overall grade.
Bank stabilization is a broad term for different soil conservation practices aimed at preventing erosion of riverbanks and riverbeds caused by flowing water, waves, ice, and rain. There are three typical approaches to bank stabilization:
- Gabion baskets, or cages packed with stones, are commonly used as a barrier to slow the movement of ground up and down steep slopes and prevent slope erosion, primarily in areas where water runs more quickly.
- Rip rap, which is loose rock between 4 inches and over 2 feet (10-60 cm), is intended to absorb the force of waves before they reach the ground on steeply sloping banks.
- Revegetation, also known as biotechnical bank stabilization, is the conservation practice of reestablishing native plant life along stream banks, particularly in environmentally sensitive locations, to prevent erosion and minimize the input of fine particles into the waterway. Compared to the first two traditional methods of bank stabilization, this soil conservation approach is more cost-effective in the long run, after the vegetation is established.
Most of these conservation techniques include the use of non-plant physical interventions to slow the movement of sediment-laden rainwater into nearby water bodies. Silt fences, sediment traps, and sedimentation ponds are the most common types of sediment control infrastructure. The effectiveness of the above sediment controls, as well as the effectiveness of any other method of soil conservation, depends on regular maintenance. Once the sediment has been gathered, it must be processed accordingly. This will allow the sediment removal infrastructure to function properly for a long time.
The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides negatively impacts ecosystem health and undermines land conservation. This is why it is crucial in modern agriculture to switch to alternative approaches to amending the soil and controlling pests.
Chemical-free methods of soil conservation and nutrient management include the plowing of residues, crop rotation, growing green manure, applying a lot of compost and manure, and using microbiological fertilizers. In most cases, integrated pest management (IPM) is the framework through which pests are controlled without the use of chemicals.
Integrated Pest Management
Using integrated pest management is an essential part of soil conservation, whereas the widespread use of aggressive pesticides is no longer appropriate due to environmental deterioration. Integrated pest management attempts to manage insects primarily by preventing them from feeding and reproducing while preserving natural diversity and ecosystem health. Many plant diseases and pests can be effectively controlled with IPM strategies involving soil solarization, crop rotation, biological control with antagonistic organisms, and the use of organic agents.
Due to variations in soil types, terrain, and climate, there is no one way to protect the fields that works everywhere. The difficulty rises when crops are grown organically, as pesticide-based soil conservation methods are forbidden.
Crop residues, stubble cutting, long-term crop rotations, pasture crops, green and animal manure, and many more practices are all part of organic farming’s arsenal for conservation of the earth. It is always preferable to employ a combination of soil conservation measures. It may be beneficial, for instance, to plant fewer shelterbelts on a given field and instead reduce the frequency of tillage operations and increase the use of green manure in order to maintain a vegetation cover.
Organically cultivated soils are much richer in organic matter than ones cultivated within the traditional framework. They also have a deeper topsoil layer, more polysaccharides, and a lower flexural strength. Long-term studies show that organic agriculture is superior to conventional farming at preventing erosion and, by extension, preserving land fertility .
Adopting Soil Conservation With EOSDA Crop Monitoring
The main goal of soil conservation efforts is to stop its degradation, such as the loss of fertility and erosion. The best way to prevent erosion is to cover the ground with crops or crop residues, since bare areas are especially prone to damage from wind, water movement, and rain splashes. For agriculture producers concerned with soil conservation, EOSDA Crop Monitoring features a convenient activity log for keeping track of planting, harvesting, and treatment dates for cover crops. Agriculturalists may see how their crops are doing in terms of density, health, and general growth.
The platform also helps farmers reveal bare territories in time so that they can keep their lands fertile and productive for as long as possible. Based on satellite-retrieved data, it assists in field scouting, pointing out areas critical for soil conservation. Once the problem is suspected, farmers can assign tasks to scouts via the mobile application, monitor the task completion, and rapidly take proper action.
In addition, EOSDA Crop Monitoring has a wide range of field monitoring services that can be very helpful when planning and carrying out crop rotation.The choice of which crops to rotate is different for each farmland and heavily depends on historical weather and field productivity data. In our platform, you can find this information along with daily weather reports and forecasts that go up to two weeks into the future. Furthermore, vegetation indices such as NDVI, MSAVI, NDMI, and ReCl help to inspect crop health at each stage of plant growth.
EOSDA Crop Monitoring combines accurate, real-time data from remote sensing with the intelligence of smart algorithms and the convenience of mobile devices. This way, agriculture producers who are committed to sustainable, ecologically sound farming can maintain complete operational control over their fields at all times.
Soil Conservation As Part Of Sustainable Agriculture
The abilities of the earth to provide food and mitigate climate change are of great interest in light of present environmental issues. Nowadays, soil conservation depends on local users like agriculture producers, foresters, miners, and land managers as well as global or regional environmental protection policies.
Maintaining soil function locally is essential, but not enough. Land degradation’s economic, social, and ecological costs require long-term finance, resource mobilization, and expertise beyond local users’ remedies. The FAO started the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) in 2012 to help national and international groups work together to promote sustainable methods of soil conservation and land use around the world . We can only achieve sustainability if we all join our efforts to prevent land degradation, promote ecological integrity, and make sure the earth can produce enough food for everyone.
About the author:
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 Sc.D. 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.
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