Here at Zylem, we walk, talk, live and breath soil health. But what’s the big fuss about? Read on to find out more about soil health and why it is so important.
What is soil health?
Soil health is most often defined as the “capacity of a soil to function within ecosystem boundaries to sustain biological productivity, maintain environmental quality, and promote plant and animal health”. As such, soil health is fundamentally linked to land productivity and environmental sustainability.
Since the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of a healthy soil vary depending on the inherent qualities of the array of soils that exist on earth, it’s impossible to classify a soil as ‘healthy’ based on these factors.
However, a soil can be described as ‘healthy’ if it demonstrates most (if not all) of the characteristics below:
- Allows water to infiltrate freely
- Supplies water, nutrients and oxygen for healthy plant growth
- Stores water
- Retains nutrients
- Resists erosion and disease
- Exchanges gases with the atmosphere readily
- Contains diverse population of soil biota
- Is not acidifying
- Is not salinising
- Has a range of pore spaces to house nutrients, water and organisms
Along with water and sunlight, soil provides the basis for all the biodiversity and terrestrial life around us:
- Field crops that we harvest for food and fibre
- Animal products (such as meat, milk, eggs, wool).
- Enabling plant growth
- Providing ecosystem services
- Resisting erosion
- Retaining nutrients
- Storing water
- Acting as an environmental buffer in the landscape
However, soil can only perform these functions effectively if it is in a healthy state.
A healthy soil:
- sustains biological productivity
- maintains environmental quality
- promotes plant and animal health.
A healthy soil is thus productive, sustainable and profitable.
1. Healthy soil for farming
A soil that is biologically active and contains high levels of organic matter is an essential component of successful and sustainable farming. When soil is in a healthy condition, it’s able to make better use of nutrients, is more resistant to weather extremes and prevents nutrient loss, all of which typically lead to higher yields.
The principles for promoting good soil health management for agriculture include:
- Causing as little soil disturbance as possible
- Diversity in crop rotations
- Maintaining a living plant throughout as much of the year as possible
- Maintaining surface residues
2. Healthy soil for the environment
A healthy soil has better water-holding capacity than an unhealthy soil, which leads to less erosion and landscape destruction. Farmers with healthy soils also have less reliance on harmful chemicals, preventing these from being leached into the natural environment.
3. Healthy soil for society
Healthy soil allows farming to become more sustainable. Passing productive and profitable farms on to the next generation helps secure the future of the world’s food supply.
At Zylem, we believe that understanding, protecting and improving soil health is critical for managing earth’s natural assets. We advise growers throughout the country on the effective use of biological inputs, which are the cornerstone of sustainable farming.
Get in touch to find out more about our industry-leading soli health solutions: https://www.zylemsa.co.za/contact-us/.