Tackling Tricky Soils

Understanding how soils work isn't an easy task. Here's the nitty gritty.

As no-tillers, you don’t need anyone to tell you that no-tilling is the best thing you can do to ensure your soils are protected and are helping the environment.

You already know conventional tillage isn’t doing a whole lot of good when it comes to soil preservation. But do you know the logistics?

Dean Martens does. This researcher at the National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames, Iowa, has seen first-hand how soils work and how management can play a big part in enhancing poor quality soils.

Carbon Content Helps

“One of the best things that can happen when you no-till is that you increase your soil carbon,” Martens says. “That’s a good thing in many cases. Carbon increases the soil temperature in the spring and it’s warmer because of the darker color.”

Infiltration, soil stability and fertility also are increased. Scientists are finding that atmospheric concentrations of carbon are going up, partly due to conventional tillage.

“No-tillage can definitely slow the release of soil carbon, says Martens. “So we may start to see management being an important part of reducing this carbon coming out of the soil into the atmosphere as a means of helping reduce our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

“On the other hand, increased carbon levels under no-tillage can reduce nitrogen availability in the spring after planting. Decomposing carbon can tie up soluble nitrogen, causing a timing problem with your nitrogen availability. Adding 20 to 35 pounds per acre of a nitrate form of starter fertilizer will give…

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