Get the dirt on the benefits of healthy soil

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager of watershed partnerships

Soil. It’s under your feet. It’s in your garden. It’s on the farms that grow your food. And yet you probably don’t give it much of a thought. But maybe you should.

Protecting soil is better for everyone. Our community gets cleaner rivers, cleaner air, and more water stored in the aquifers. Agriculture producers get more productive crops, and spend less money on fertilizers, fuel, and maintaining equipment.

Healthy soil is a living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Healthy soil offers several benefits. It can:

  • Trap and store water, which can help areas facing drought conditions.
  • Reduce sediments from running off the land. Soil erosion is the leading cause of water pollution in our rivers and streams across the United States.
  • Filter out potential pollutants from getting into groundwater, rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. The minerals and microbes in soil can degrade and detoxify pollution from industry and municipal sources.
  • Trap carbon and reduce dust in the air, helping us breathe easier.

With more than 70 percent of land in the Great Miami River Watershed actively used for agricultural production, it’s easy to see the importance of farming on our regional quality of life–and its influence on aquifers, and rivers and streams.

Healthy soil can increase crop productivity and improve water quality.

Improving soil health to improve water quality

When agricultural producers implement conservation practices that shift soil composition into an ideal proportion, it not only can increase crop productivity but protect and improve water quality.

Roots from plants, the absence of turning over topsoil with annual tillage, and the reduction of compaction all increase water infiltration by creating and protecting a network of soil pores. The greater the amount of water infiltrating into the soil, the less water available to run off a field.

Whether you live in an urban neighborhood with lawn andsmall garden, or on a farm with hundreds of acres, you can help keep soil healthy by implementing conservation practices.Conservation practices that can help soil health include:

  • Minimizing disturbance of the soil which reduces compaction and encourages growth of microbial communities.
  • Keeping cover on soil by growing plants year-round, leaving plant residue, or covering soils with mulch.
  • Improving biodiversity by growing different kinds of crops.
  • Increasing living roots which can reduce soil erosion and provide food for earthworms and microbes.
  • Installing buffers of vegetation along waterways, which can help to trap and remove sediment and nutrients and protect rivers and streams from farm field runoff.
Buffers along waterways help trap and remove sediment.

Regenerative Agriculture
Improving soil health is a main principal of regenerative farming, an emerging agricultural philosophy based on improved soils and long-term sustainability. With regenerative agriculture, agriculture producers are not just sustaining the current land so that it can continue to be used in the future. They want to improve soil health and the overall quality and health of the land, water, plants, and animals, leaving it better for the next generation.

Resources
https://soilhealthnexus.org/soil-health/
https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/
https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/sustainable-agriculture-definitions-and-terms-related-terms
https://www.farmers.gov/conservation/soil-health

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