Healthy soil enhances life

Ensuring soil health is the key to a sustainable future.

Beneath our feet is a sea of life. The soil is a matrix of living creatures, dynamic relationships and interactions between life above the soil surface and life below it. As farmers plant, grow and harvest crops, they depend on the health of the soil, for it is that soil health that enables plants to flourish. On Aug. 24, MSU Agriculture Innovation Day – Focus on Soil in Frankenmuth, MI will focus on the importance maintaining soil health for a more sustainable future.

Soil is a complex mixture in ways that we don’t fully understand. One could start by describing soil as the mineral particle sizes of which it is made up. Coarser particles, like sand, have greater space between the particles allowing more rapid movement of water through it. Finer particles, like clay, are tightly held together and water may not move well through it.

And yet, soil is more than simply the combination of particle sizes, for the pathways made by roots as well as those made by worms and bugs also enable water to move through a soil profile and allow air to get in.

We depend on certain bacteria in soil to populate the roots of legumes such as alfalfa and clover and capture nitrogen from air and sequester it into root nodules. Thus, nitrogen is naturally made available to the plant for growth and protein building.

Non-living organic matter can provide sustenance through its various stages of decomposition by soil bacteria, fungi and other microbes that consume carbon molecules in the organic matter and transform the material into other forms. That organic matter also increases the water holding capacity of the soil, helping plants survive longer periods without rain in sandy soils.

There is probably no single definition or measure of soil health that encompasses it all. It is complex. While we do not ultimately create life or destroy the capacity of the soil, we can impact how vibrant it is. What we do to the soil and in the soil impacts the bacterial, chemical and physical processes within the soil. We can by our actions improve soil health or degrade it.

Michigan State University Extension is a leader in working with agricultural producers in helping them better understand practices and their impact on soil health. Emphasis on cover crops, proper application of manure, nutrient and water management are just a few of the areas in which Educators with Michigan State Extension have worked with farmers.

This summer, on August 24, Michigan State University Extension is hosting an educational field day focused on soils at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center near Frankenmuth, MI. The “Focus on Soil Innovation Day” is a great opportunity for farmers to learn about the cutting-edge research by MSU scientists on soil health topics ranging from nutrient management and soil quality to compaction and tile technology.

The event is free and open to all. It begins at 8:00 am with registration. Nine educational sessions will be conducted throughout the day and attendees can also view displays and demonstrations. A lunch will be provided. For more information visit our official agriculture innovation day page.

The health of soils determines their productivity, their ability to remove material from the water that percolates through it and the likelihood of it supporting life. Therefore, every one of us is impacted by soil health, for we all depend on those functions.

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