We know conservation of soil is important, but when it comes down to actually doing it, most of us don’t know how to conserve soil.
Soil conservation focuses on three main things: understanding how to use land resources more efficiently, keeping an eye on the fields to be able to recognize areas where soil needs to be tended to, and understanding how effective different soil conservation techniques are so you can increase or decrease their use.
There are plenty of ways farmers and experts have come up with to conserve soil. Some methods are more focused on agricultural practices, while some can be done at home.
Experts have carried out various research in the area to see why soil conservation is important, and how it can be successfully carried out.
Why Is Soil Conservation Important?
Soil conservation is a set of techniques that aims to protect the soil from degrading, eroding or depleting. This is to maintain the biodiversity of the land and protect the ecosystem that lives and depends on it.
Soil conservation techniques add organic matter to the soil, release nutrients, improve water infiltration and aeration. By ensuring that the soil is able to provide for the plants that are growing in it, you are able to protect the communities and habitats that live in the area.
Soil conservation prevents the soil from eroding and thus boosts the productivity and quality of the earth.
How to Conserve Soil
There are a number of ways to conserve soil. Let’s look at each of them.
Agricultural Soil Conservation
This practice focuses on addressing the erosion of soil through wind and water by keeping the earth covered with vegetation. This could be either crops themselves, or their residue, which limits the number of times tilling needs to be carried out.
No-till farming helps with keeping soil anchored in place because the plants are not plowed away at the end of the season. Minimizing the disturbance in the soil makes sure that the soil is not left bare to wind and water, since this results in greater chances of erosion. Vegetation also accumulates moisture, which provides the water needed for future crops.
Choosing the right time for field operations is also a significant aspect to this. The type of soil affects the right time for tilling. For example with clay soils, tilling should be done after harvest while other types are better tilled before seeding.
Contour farming is a soil conservation method that works best for sloped areas. With this, you plant crops along contours, with rows or layers built along the sides up and down the slope to keep the soil from eroding when water flows down the side. The rows contain the water and thus protect the soil.
With this kind of farming, farmers take high-growing crops and plant them with low-growing crops to protect the soil from being eroded by the wind. This method works even better when more of the high-growing crops are planted in the areas where winds blow frequently. The low-growing crops will also provide organic matter, which is an extra benefit for the plants.
This practice is, as the name suggests, used for protecting the soil against powerful winds. Since wind is a major cause of soil erosion, planting trees and bushes in rows works to protect the crops growing in areas where winds blow very hard. Windbreak vegetation has the added benefit of providing a habitat for some wildlife, and keeps soil abrasion from affecting the crops when the wind blows.
The wildlife will also give back to the soil because when they die, their bodies will decompose into organic matter which provides soil with more nutrients.
The practice of crop rotation involves changing the species of crops being planted in the field every season, rather than monocropping where farmers will plant the same species after the first harvest is complete. This method has a number of significant benefits. For one, crop rotation helps with improving the structure of the soil because the root systems diversify.
It also gets rid of pests and helps add nitrogen to the land by planting plants like legumes that are known as nitrogen-fixing plants. It also keeps the same nutrients from being used up by the crops and thus protects the soil from becoming infertile.
Crop rotation also involves careful consideration of the choice of crops being planted. Every agricultural field has different kinds of soil, and the area they’re in will affect the weather and productivity of the soil as well. Some plants have been efficient with crop rotation, while others have not.
This technique is also developed to protect the bare soil from being exposed to wind and water. The cover crops are grown as secondary crops between the cash crops, to provide cattle with forage or grazing material, for green manure, and to control the growth of weeds.
These cover crops also help retain moisture and create a natural environment for small animals and microbes that are beneficial to the growth of the plants as well.
Minimizing the Use of Synthetic Fertilizers and Pesticides
Many times, chemical pesticides and insecticides are used to control weed growth and keep pests from infesting the crop. Synthetic fertilizers are also used to add nutrients to the soil and promote plant growth. However, this can be harmful to the soil.
It is better to take a more organic approach to farming, using biological options instead. Green and animal manure can be used to improve soil fertility, over synthetic options, as well as compost and humus. By using crop rotation and introducing the natural enemies of pests in the field, you can eliminate the use of pesticides and thus protect the soil.
Buffer strips are strips of trees and bushes planted along the banks of water bodies to keep the soil and sediment from being carried into the water after being eroded.
The roots of these plants keep the soil fixed in place, and the leaves create canopies that keep the wind from adding to the erosion process. They also keep excessive sunlight from affecting the inhabitants of the water and the land, and the falling leaves of these plants also provide organic matter and food to the aquatic animals that live within the water bodies.
Even if you’re not a farmer, you can employ certain soil conservation methods on your own to protect the soil in your home garden.
Reducing Impervious Surfaces
Impervious surfaces allow water to flow over them freely. These include your driveways and patios, which are paved over. When the water flows freely, it gains momentum and thus when it enters your garden, it has the speed and strength to erode the soil as it goes.
A better option would be to use paving stones, which keep the water from gaining this momentum and thus protect the soil when the water eventually enters your garden.
Another option for you to conserve the soil at home is to build a rain garden. This is a small, shallow depression in the middle of your yard which collects the precipitation that has washed over the impervious surfaces present around the soil.
This protects the soil from being eroded away, and creates a miniature wetland for you to plant some wetland plants there as well, thus adding to the biodiversity of your home garden.
There are plenty of ways to protect the soil from being washed away. Many of these conservation methods are not very high effort, and by implementing them, you can protect the soil. This will help protect the plants that rely on the soil, as well as the entire food chains and webs that rely on those plants, for generations to come.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker