Soil erosion is generally caused by one of two elements: wind or water. These two elements distribute soil sediments differently during erosion. Depending on the conditions surrounding the erosion, there could be economic and environmental losses. Water and wind erosion affect soil content and may reduce microbe induction while raising soil’s acidity, or pH level, which interferes with growth and yield.
Knowing soil’s pH can provide insight into problems such as crop loss and low yield. When a grower knows and understands these issues, they can take action and prevent further economic losses.
What is pH?
A crucial factor for soil health lies in its pH level. pH, or potential hydrogen, measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in soil. These concentrations determine whether soil is acidic or alkaline. pH levels of 5.5 and under are desirable for producing healthy crops. Subsoils should measure 4.8 or lower for more alkaline soil. The lower the pH level, the less acidity is in the soil.
Soil’s acidity or alkalinity determines whether crops will see their full yield, or be reduced unhealthy, acidic crops. pH levels decide the stability of the land for crop production by the measure of nutrients available for both soil and plant health.
While low pH should not result in production losses, high pH concentrations and acidity disturb the induction of microbes into the soil, which will weaken its overall structure.
What is Soil Erosion
Sheet and gully erosion caused by water can strip topsoil of its nutrients and change soil’s structure so that its underlying subsoils are also compromised. Saltation, an effect of wind erosion, tosses soil particles into the air and carries them great distances. These particles can cause upper respiratory conditions to flare while they blanket homes and roadways, and smother crops.
The environmental impacts of soil erosion are felt in loss of crop yields due to soil compromise and nutrient unavailability. Loss of animal habitat is felt as insects and microbes are partly responsible for soil’s structure and integrity.
Agriculture suffers overall as it is this land stripped bare of its vegetation. It is bare land that is most vulnerable to erosion and resulting acidity. Development also suffers losses as infrastructure is weakened by erosion.
How Does Soil Erosion Affect Soil pH?
Soil that is maximized to maintain its value as a resource to produce healthy, thriving crops is lower in pH for alkaline soil. Reducing high acidity in soil is needed to produce strong crops and prepare the land for the next growing season.
As erosion occurs, it takes more than just soil. Erosion carries fertilizers and pesticides along with it as it flows or blows. These sediment deposits might affect surrounding soils and spread (or cause) acidity to nearby areas. Because acidic soil is responsible for nutrient deficiencies and toxicities found in plants, balancing pH is a crucial component to economic health.
As erosion contributes to a rise in the water table, and because pH is usually higher in moist soils, water erosion poses serious consequences to soil’s balance and stability. As acidity accumulates, it might affect surrounding areas by furthering the imbalance and making it that much more difficult to correct or offset the damage.
Managing Acidic Soils
Once pH levels are high in topsoils, underlying subsoil horizons might also be affected. If the parent layer, or O horizon, becomes too acidic, the fight to bring back balance intensifies. Knowing the pH levels of planting ground before the first crops go in is a wise move to prevent unexpected disaster.
Fortunately, there are methods a grower can use to reduce soil acidity and bring pH levels to their ideal levels for their incoming crops.
- Applying the proper amount of nitrogen and sulfur fertilizers can have a positive effect on pH and lower its levels over time. The key is adding the proper amounts of fertilizer at the appropriate time depending on the crop’s needs.
- Liming is a tried-and-true method of lowering soil pH. However, this method has proven to be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Moreover, not every farm can afford to purchase lime to control pH. Liming’s effects tend to last a short time and may contribute to nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Liming may also trigger a decline in microbes, compromising soil’s crucial make-up.
- Cropping practices that improve soil’s organic matter and soil’s overall health is the ideal method of reducing soil pH. Geotextiles in natural fibers like coir can be used in strip planting and terracing to serve double duty: reduce effects of erosion and balance soil pH. Coir’s neutral pH makes it an ideal accompaniment for soil to maintain its overall structure and integrity.
How to Test Soil pH
Testing soil pH is relatively simple and can be performed with various measurement techniques. Be sure to test soil in more than one location for an accurate pH range.
- PH kit with pH paper: Look for kits that contain a relatively broad pH level scale of 1-14. Some kits may concentrate the range with reading levels between 4.5-10. This method tests soil by adding in a little water then dipping the strip in the soil to take a pH reading.
- Soil pH meter: These meters are used by pushing the probe into the soil to read the meter’s measurement.
How to Prevent pH Imbalances in the Soil
Reducing runoff and erosion are key components in maintaining soil’s ideal pH. Protecting bare land with added vegetation and the use of geotextiles is warranted and recommended to reduce the effects of soil nutrient loss. Additionally, frequent soil testing can alert growers to potential problems before they plant the first seeds.
Soil is composed of many elements for a reason. A living, evolving material, soil’s make-up can be compromised by excessive erosion or runoff that not only affects the growing topsoil but the supporting horizons beneath. Soil pH doesn’t have to be complicated to maintain, and with a little diligence and regular testing, soil will sound the alarm when there may be something wrong.