Improving productivity is the core goal of each farmer, and good soils assist to gain it. Soil structure, composition, and fertility are key aspects to consider while choosing crops to sow, fertilisers to add, and water volumes to distribute.
Thus, testing becomes a crucial aspect of agricultural success. It boosts yields, prevents erosion, and saves both farmers’ and nature’s resources. Soil tests become a win-win solution as soil health is not only a healthy environment but also healthy mankind, following the famous quote “we are what we eat”, and perhaps, what we breathe.
These are major reasons why smart cultivation and soil testing are vital for the environment.
What Is Soil Testing?
Soil tests aim to determine fertility, type, acidity, salinity, water retention properties, to estimate depletion and erosion risks.
Soil testing is beneficial both to farmers and nature as it completes the following tasks:
- Prevents soil depletion and erosion. Alongside contamination, soil erosion has been a major concern of ecologists and agrarians. It impacts the climate with droughts, winds, floods as well as shortens arable lands. Soil and fertiliser residues pollute waters.
This phenomenon is mostly irreversible and can be only slowed down rather than stopped. The primary sign for the process is soil degradation and depletion. Thus, noticing the tendencies and taking actions in time are key steps of the prevention strategy.
- Enriches the soil. Equipped with reliable knowledge, farmers improve the critical areas and maintain sustainability.
- Boosts yields. Plants demand nutrients to thrive, so to analyse which ones exactly they lack is critical. An experienced farmer can spot the problem with abnormal plant colourings, yet detailed testing provides more extended results.
- Eliminates inputs. Accurate data on the nutrients content and soil type help farmers to streamline fertilising and irrigation applying them only when necessary. For example, sandy soils require more frequent watering than clay ones. Smart usage of fertilisers reduces production costs and eliminates the pollution of natural resources.
- Prevents potential losses. When agrarians are aware of what their crops lack, they can adjust the soil to the plant needs, be it fertilising, correcting acidity levels, or applying alternative irrigation schemes. To make it smart, they should remember: there is no haste to bring the ‘hard arsenal’ of chemicals into the scene – organic ‘remedies’ are far cheaper and beneficial to nature. The other convincing reason is that they are always at hand.
As appears, humus can be useful in many things: it promotes water retention in sandy soils, combats particle sticking in clay ones, normalizes PH-levels, and helps to battle pests, providing a beneficial environment to ‘good’ microorganisms that prey on the ‘evil’ ones.
The following article may be a good guide for further actions.
- Checks contamination. Hard metals are tricky enemies of both humans and nature. These include lead, mercury, nickel, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, copper, and more. While their smallest concentration is necessary for plants, elevated levels are dangerous. They penetrate the body via skin pores, with vapors, through agricultural products that accumulated them. The main reason for this harmful accumulation is the negative consequences of human industrial and technogenic activities.
Since they are invisible but highly toxic, the sole method to be aware of them is testing. A case study by Olivia Saunders and Thomas Buob (University of New Hampshire) interprets test results and explains the reasons for concern.
Another contamination issue is of biological origin and includes pathogenic microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, nematodes. Corresponding tests reveal them and allow farmers to act correspondingly.
- Prevents negative consequences of tillage. Until recent, tillage was a universal method to solve multiple agricultural tasks including soil aeration, elimination of weeds, and pest development among the others. Yet, it is not always as nature-friendly as it may seem, as unjustified tillage causes soil erosion. Testing marks devastation risks and allows farmers to improve the situation.
Iowa State University comprehensively explains why tillage is harmful to farming and nature.
- Determines acidity/salinity levels. Either excessive or insufficient acidity is critical for plants’ development, affecting their ability to absorb nutrients. The optimum value of PH-level is about 7.0. To stabilise it, one should know the initial state of things, and here soil testing is a good reference. Once the PH-level is determined, it can be optimised with sulphur (to increase acidity) or limestone (to decrease it).
- Protects nature. Test-driven solutions are environmentally friendly and help to avoid unjustified chemical fertilising. Common practice includes a well-known fact: legumes are known for nitrogen release so they can harmlessly replace industrially-produced chemicals.
Soil Analysis: Common Practices And Classifications
There are versatile methods to identify the soil composition. Some of them involve complex devices to determine the chemical contents while the simplest mechanical ones are part of the school curriculum.
On the professional level, it is performed by specific laboratories throughout the world. The advanced and most innovative approach is based on the Earth’s infrared radiation energy captured by satellite imagery and processed with designated software. Multiple cloud-based tools process the retrieved data and provide farmers with smart solutions.
The choice of a soil testing method depends upon the target parameter to determine (fertility, contamination, etc.).
Common practices involve the following:
– Mechanical analysis outlines the content of particles and their ratio to define the soil type.
– Chemical analysis studies incorporation of heavy metals, micro- and macronutrients, fertiliser concentration, acidity and salinity levels, chemical contamination.
– Toxicological analysis targets harmful substances like radionuclides, heavy metals.
– Microbiological analysis searches microorganisms and their numbers.
– Mineralogical analysis shows the content of minerals in the earth.
– Agrochemical analysis defines the incorporation of chemical substances essential for plants and their deficiency.
– Physical analysis checks electrical conductivity.
An extensive description of soil testing methods and their interpretation may be of great use to agrarians.
According to Mississippi State University, the best recommended time to collect samples is 3-6 months before planting. This allows us to diagnose the problem, and to have enough time to react. The point of view is not unanimous though, and other sources insist that the best time to be in the know is now.
The Long And The Short Of It
To inspect all fields in person or with special equipment is labour and cost consuming. What is more, certain symptoms may escape even the keenest eye, and soil issues are often below the surface.
Smart agriculture has proved to be beneficial both for environmental sustainability and successful farming experience. Soil testing is essential to grasp the situation and improve it both with profit and nature in mind. It is a justified expense when in the long run you can get more with less.