What is in this article?:
- Soil is alive with organisms that convert air, water, organic matter and soil nutrients into a robust soil-plant system that can supplement and enhance seed, nutrient and crop protection technologies.
- Evaluate your soil-plant system as a synergistic, holistic system – not isolated tools of tillage, drainage and nutrient management. If you change or alter one tool, such as a transition to no-till, consider how to modify other factors for success.
- Rethink field management over an entire year, not simply in-crop. If corn-on-corn maximizes your economic opportunity, consider intercrop rotation with a cover crop.
- Create a long-term plan to improve and enhance soil conditions and track your progress.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
“There are many things we need to look at before we can use them,” says Chen. “One thought is to introduce a very small amount of inoculum into the field and let the agent build in population over time develop suppression in the soil. The benefit would be seen in future years.”
Improved soil structure due to cover crops and tillage or the lack thereof, higher organic matter and nutrient retention, and soil biota including disease and pest-suppressive organisms, are all pieces of the soil health and crop productivity puzzle. Hatfield suggests that, although more pieces are coming into view, there is still a long way to go before they all come together and farming systems are managed with this holistic approach.
“We really have not fully developed precision agriculture in a way in which we build a library of information about a field to help a producer evaluate the impact of his management system over a number of years,” says Hatfield. “We have lots of sources of data, but we still need to develop a methodology of making this data into information. Over the next few years, I envision an explosion in technology of how we can take this approach to the next level.”