How to Manage Soil Fertility
From an agricultural point of view, a fertile soil is one that can provide adequate amounts of nutrients to the garden to ensure optimal plant growth, which results in better crop yields and quality. So, what makes a soil fertile? Here are the various factors that define and contribute to soil fertility.
Mineral Composition – By knowing the mineral composition of your soil, you can predict its ability to retain plant nutrients. The mineral composition of a soil is determined by the source rock, climate, and various biological and chemical processes that have taken place in that area of land over the years.
When referring to a soil’s mineral nutrient content, there is a wide gap between the total amount of mineral nutrients that are present in your soil, and how available they are to plants. In fact, only a small fraction of the minerals found in your soil become available to your plants.
Applying fertilizers and soil amendments is the key element in enhancing and preserving the mineral content of your soil, which means a proper fertilizing program is one of the most important factors influencing your soil fertility.
Soil pH – Maintaining your soil’s pH levels is important when it comes to maintaining proper soil fertility, as the pH levels have a big impact on the nutrient availability in your soil. A pH range of 5.5-7 is considered adequate for most plants, and is obtainable through the use of a balanced fertilization program and the addition of products designed to either raise or lower the pH.
Soil Texture – The different sizes of mineral particles that make up a soil give it its structure, making it either sand, silt or clay, for example. In comparison to sandy soils, clay soils are capable of retaining more nutrients, meaning they act as a bigger nutrient reservoir for your plants.
Soils Cation Exchange Capacity – The cation exchange capacity (CEC) of your soil can be used as an indication of soil fertility. A higher CEC means your soil has a higher capacity to hold nutrients. Clay soils will have a higher CEC than sandy soils and are usually more fertile.
Organic Matter – The organic matter of your soil, which makes up only a small percentage of it, is considered to be a source of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can be mineralized and become available for plant uptake. The organic matter of a soil also increases soil fertility, as it improves soil structure while increasing the CEC.
Maintaining a fertile soil has everything to do with correct nutrient management. Inadequate use of fertilizers has negative effects on soil fertility. Over-using fertilizers is not only costly, but also creates soil-health problems. Mineral salts that are not used by the crop accumulate and affect future crops grown in that soil.
On the other hand, without the application of a sufficient amount of fertilizers, soils that were once fertile will gradually become depleted of nutrients. When and if this happens, any crops planted there in the future won’t be able to reach their potential yields, and your profits will suffer.
When it comes to applying fertilizers, the strengths, specific nutrients and dosages need to be correlated with your target yield, and preferably be customized according to the growing stage of the crop. This means that monitoring the nutrient content of your soil is extremely important so that adjustments can be made throughout the growth cycle.
Soil and plant tissue analysis are helpful ways you can keep track of the fertility status of your soil. To achieve high yields and maintain soil fertility for years to come, an appropriate fertilizing program should be established.