So what are the tools we can use to help ensure the best possible soil quality?
Whether your soil is naturally high or low in organic matter, adding new organic matter every year is perhaps the most important way to improve and maintain soil quality. Regular additions of organic matter improve soil structure, enhance water and nutrient holding capacity, protect soil from erosion and compaction, and support a healthy population of soil organisms. Practices that increase organic matter include: leaving crop residues in the field, choosing crop rotations that include high residue plants, using optimal nutrient and water management practices, and minimum tillage systems.
Reducing tillage minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue. Tillage is used to loosen surface soil surface with plant residue. Tillage is used to loosen surface soil, prepare the seedbed, and control weeds and pests. However, intensive tillage can also degrade soil structure, increase the loss of organic matter, increase erosion, and cause compaction.
Soil stores and moderates the release of nutrients, but its capacity can be limited. Efficient pest and nutrient management includes testing and monitoring soil and pests; applying only the necessary chemicals and nutrients at the right place and the right time.
Compaction reduces the amount of air and water available to roots and soil organisms. Compaction may be caused by repeated or heavy traffic and deep soil compaction is very difficult to remedy, so prevention is essential.
Bare soil is susceptible to erosion and to drying and crusting. Ground cover protects soil, provides a habitat for soil organisms and can improve water availability. Ground can be covered by leaving crop residue on the surface or by planting cover crops.