Special to the Leader
Jeff Schick, District Conservationist
Our lives are dependent on healthy soil. While most people think of soil as just dirt, its functions are crucial to our very existence. And while it may seem trivial at first glance, healthy soil gives us clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing lands, diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes. It’s the reason why USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service experts are in your community and across the nation.
Healthy soil contains nutrients necessary for supporting plants and animals. Just as plants and animals depend on soil, the soil microbes depend on them, too. Soil is where the integration of living and non-living things takes place – part of a process that is millions of years old.
Soil is composed of air, water, organic matter and minerals. A community of organisms – functioning as a soil food web – lives all or parts of their lives in soil. More individual organisms are in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth.
Increasing soil organic matter typically improves soil health, since organic matter improves several critical functions of soil.
To improve the health of their soil, more and more farmers and ranchers are keeping soil covered, reducing disturbance activities such as tilling, keeping plants growing throughout the year, and diversifying the crops they’re planting in a rotation. Taking these steps allow farmers and ranchers to help reduce erosion while increasing the soil’s ability to provide nutrients and water to the plant at critical times during the growing season.
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