Soil conservation is a key topic in agriculture. When it comes to farming, the importance of soil conservation cannot be ignored. Various threats from unsustainable farming practices can lead to loss of soil. Fortunately, there are many methods of soil conservation.
What Is Soil Conservation?
What is soil conservation, and what are the measures of soil conservation? Soil conservation aims to prevent erosion as well as prevent loss of fertility of the soil. There are a variety of measures you can take to conserve soil and prevent these detrimental effects.
Soil erosion is a problem because when topsoil is lost, nutrients that are necessary for plants to survive are also lost. Topsoil lost from agricultural areas generally holds pesticides and fertilizers, and when these enter water systems, they can destroy the systems’ delicate ecologies.
Soil conservation encompasses a variety of techniques. These techniques and methods all work to preserve the soil’s fertility and prevent erosion.
What Are the Threats to Soil Conservation?
Though soil protection may not receive as much attention in the media as the conservation of oceans, forests, or energy, it is essential for agriculture. Most of the threats to soil conservation come from unsustainable farming practices. A few common threats to soil conservation include chemical contamination, slash and burn farming, and land overuse.
Chemical fertilizers can harm soil when used in excess. A plant uses only a small amount of fertilizer. If it is using only a fraction of the fertilizer that’s applied, the residual chemicals then alter the healthy balance of the soil, making it unable to sustain life.
Pesticides also create problems in the soil. While they do kill off harmful insects, pesticides also harm beneficial organisms the soil needs to remain healthy.
Additionally, fertilizers and pesticides contaminate runoff. The contaminated runoff can then cause damage to surrounding water ecosystems.
Slash and Burn Farming
Slash and burn is a common agricultural technique to modify wildlands so that they are suitable for farming. When farmers use this technique, they cut down huge swaths of trees. Then, they burn the residual vegetation. This practice creates a layer of ash that makes the area of land fertile for agriculture, but the effect is temporary. After farming depletes the nutrients from the soil, that area is abandoned. Farmers then repeat the process.
The practice of slash and burn farming negatively impacts soil conservation. When people remove trees and vegetation from an area, the act also removes the root structures that hold topsoil in its place. Further, once there are no longer nutrients from ash, the soil cannot sustain life.
If crops are repeatedly cultivated in an area, the soil eventually becomes infertile. Tilling, one of the cultivation processes, takes out essential micronutrients that are essential for life, including nitrogen, iron, and phosphorous. The land becomes unhealthy and unbalanced after repetitive cultivation depletes the area’s topsoil.
What Are Some Methods and Techniques for Soil Conservation?
Unsustainable farming can lead to soil loss and a decrease in soil fertility. Throughout history, people have developed a variety of soil conservation methods that seek to preserve the level of nutrients in the soil and prevent erosion. Learning how to conserve soil is important for anyone who farms.
The terracing method involves carving many flat-leveled areas into a hill. The terraces then form steps, and a mud wall prevents runoff and keeps soil nutrients in the beds. Less-developed places often use this method because it is difficult to use mechanized farming equipment in the terraces.
Perimeter Runoff Control
Soil conservationists can turn to planting to protect their soil. With perimeter runoff control, you plant trees, shrubs, and ground cover around the farmland’s perimeter. This impedes surface flows, and it holds nutrients in the farmed soil. Using grass is a specialized method of handling perimeter runoff that utilizes surface friction to channel and then dissipate runoff.
Other soil conservation practices rely on trees. Rows of tall trees arranged in dense patterns around farmland are called windbreaks. This technique prevents wind erosion. You may choose evergreen trees for protection throughout the year. Deciduous trees can also work as long as they have foliage when the soil is bare.
Cover Crops and Crop Rotation
Cover crops, like radishes and turnips, prevent soil erosion. Farmers can rotate the cover crops with cash crops to keep their soil blanketed throughout the year. This method suppresses weeds and creates green manure, which replenishes critical nutrients like nitrogen.
Plant grass in areas that are heavily eroded to increase the soil’s nutrient levels. Ley farming cultivates grass in rotation with regular crops. If soil is heavily eroded, you should allow grass to grow for years so that the soil can naturally repair itself.
The contour plowing farming method originated in ancient Phoenicia and is an effective way of farming on slopes. It calls for plowing grooves into the land you want to farm. Then, plant the crop furrows in these grooves, following the contours.
Keyline design is an enhanced version of contour plowing. Keylines are the topographic feature that is linked to water flow. The method allows for maximum water retention by considering watershed properties when creating contour lines. Water runs off right into an existing water channel, which stops soil erosion that the water would otherwise cause.
Instead of changing the topography of soil with contouring or tilling, you can use no-till farming. This farming technique increases the amount of water that penetrates the soil. It can increase the amount of organic matter that’s in the soil, which results in larger yields.
Soil Conservation Farming
Soil conservation farming is a combination of farming methods. It tries to mimic the biology of the land before it is farmed. Farmers can eliminate nitrogen fertilizer and fungicides to increase their yields and to shield crops from flooding or drought. These practices can prevent the erosion of soil, restore soil that has been damaged, and encourage the growth of plants.
Understanding the threats to soil as well as the ways to preserve nutrients in the soil and prevent erosion is key to maintaining an area. There are many methods farmers can employ to conserve soil.