The life of soil

Grab a handful of soil and hope that it’s alive. Ninety-percent of the environmental and agronomic functions that we expect the soil to perform are done by the things that live in it.

Jon Stika is a former soil health educator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and authored a book called “A Soil Owner’s Manual: How to Restore and Maintain Soil Health.  He says we need to understand what soil is, how it works, and what it needs to be its vibrant, living self.  For example, plants and organisms in the soil need each other to survive. There’s no free lunch.

"The plants make carbohydrates they feed to the organisms that live in the soil that then turn nutrients, water, or make nutrients in an available form such as nitrogen to the plant. So, the plant isn’t giving them all these sugars for nothing, it expects something in return," says Stika. "They mutually support each other and in the process they actually build the soil aggregates that hold everything together."

Stika says he believes the dark side of agriculture such as bankruptcies and suicides is tied to how well the soil is functioning.

"If we can restore soil function, these producers can reduce a lot of these input costs, increase their margin of profitability, and remain viable," he says. "If their soil’s degraded and it continues to be degraded and they continue to have to increase inputs just to maintain the same yields, the economics of that just aren’t going to work." 

Most Recent Poll

How much planting have you finished?

75-100%
28% (27 votes)
0-25%
22% (21 votes)
I just want to see the responses.
21% (20 votes)
25-50%
9% (9 votes)
50-75%
8% (8 votes)
I haven't started yet.
7% (7 votes)
I don't grow crops.
4% (4 votes)
Total votes: 96
Thank you for voting.