MEMPHIS, Tenn. (DTN) -- One of my favorite memories of childhood is wiggling my bare toes in a dirt lane that served as the back entrance to our Illinois farmstead. It was mostly a hard-packed trail, but there was a glorious curve where the soil sat like powder. After a rain, that section of road would glop up into a wonderful paste that would make a high-end mud spa envious. I would paint my legs with it and make casts of the clay soil. The dirt curve was just as glorious in summer. I can still imagine the feel of dust so hot that it caused an instant shiver when the foot first plunged.
Later in life, I was recruited to serve on an FFA soil judging team. Those lessons led to a deeper understanding of the importance of soil components and why it was good my powdery pool of dust wasn't widespread across our farm.
I've spent most of this week attending a conference and listening to professionals talk about water quality issues and how monitoring is progressing at the farm level. It's been awhile since I've immersed myself in these topics, and the network of agencies and task forces working on these efforts is impressive, if not overwhelming.
So it was with keener interest that I come to the fact that Dec. 5 is World Soil Day. One of the groups working to make a difference in this area is the National Corn Growers Association through their Soil Health Partnership. This partnership is working to encourage farmers at a local level as to what steps they can take now to improve their land.
Here's 10 things the Soil Health Partnership suggests as to what you can do to improve your soil health:
1. Learn more about soil health and practical options to improve it in your area -- like tillage, cover crops and efficient nutrient management.
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2. Get your soil tested annually and watch for trends. Check with your agronomist and soil testing laboratories for recommendations.
3. Try expanding soil testing to include a soil health assessment to measure chemical, physical and biological aspects of your soil. These all affect your crop yields.
4. Consider cover crops for 2016. Identify issues in your field and think of cover crops as a tool to fix the issues. Start small and talk to neighbors who use them.
5. Know and understand what you can do to improve nutrient use efficiency in your system. Consider on-farm testing of fertilizer rate, timing, source and location to make sure nutrients end up in your crop.
6. Consider testing conservation tillage practices like no-till or strip-till. Starting small is key.
7. Create a crop yield and soil health plan to try one or two new practices to optimize your yields and improve your soils. Measuring is key to success! Start there.
8. Manure can be a great source of nutrients if used correctly. If manure is available, follow proper application guidelines to help improve organic matter and nutrient availability.
9. Think about controlled traffic in your fields to reduce compaction. Set up travel lanes in fields to reduce field crossings by harvesting equipment, grain trucks, fertilizer trucks, etc.
10. Consider becoming a Soil Health Partnership farmer! Find out more here: http://soilhealthpartnership.org/…
The World Soil Day campaign aims to connect people with soils and raise awareness on their critical importance in our lives. This year, it will be celebrated Dec. 4 December at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations headquarters in Rome, with additional local events planned worldwide. You can find more information on it here: http://www.fao.org/…
Today the dirt lane on our farm is farmed with conservation practices. I'll have to be content with wiggling my toes in corn residue or perhaps some cover crops. That feels good too.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com
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