Thursday, September 11, 2008

Living Soil and Its Function

Guest Post By Jon Stika

Soil quality (the ability of the soil to function) should be the number one concern of all conservationists. The reason I believe this is that restoring and improving soil function is the solution to our natural resource problem and all the symptoms of that disease.
For many years, most conservationists have regarded soil erosion as a problem. Soil erosion is not a problem; it is a symptom of soil not functioning. For many years conservationists have prescribed conservation programs and best management practices as solutions. Conservation programs and best management practices are not the solution to natural resource concerns, they are tools.
First, we must understand that the problem is the fact that our soils are not functioning. Soil is supposed to regulate water, cycle nutrients, support plant and animal life, as well as filter, buffer, degrade, immobilize, etc. what ever is thrown at it.
Second, we must examine why our soils are not functioning. Our soils are not functioning because very few farmers, ranchers, researchers or conservationists understand what makes soil "tick" and so do not know how to manage soil so it can function to the best of its ability. What makes soil tick is the diversity of life (mostly microscopic) that is supposed to be living in it. Once we understand that the key to restoring soil function is to create and maintain suitable habitat for the microscopic life (aka the soil food web) in the soil, we will solve the natural resource problem of non-functioning soil, and the symptoms of soil erosion, water quality impairment, etc. will disappear. Soil aggregation, water infiltration, creation of organic matter, nutrient cycling, etc. are all at the mercy of the soil food web.
I have seen the results of managing for soil quality on several farms and ranches here North Dakota and am convinced that once folks understand that improving soil quality is the solution, they can intelligently apply tools to build it.

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