Soil Conservation: Importance, Benefits and Practices

Soil Conservation: Importance, Benefits and Practices
External Guest Writer
June 6, 2022

What is Soil Conservation?

Soil conservation is an agricultural practice that protects soil resources from depletion due to tilling, harvesting, and other agricultural activities. Soil conservation practices involve returning the nutrients back in the soil, treating the soil as a living ecosystem of its own. Soil conservation takes into consideration soil organisms that live in the soil particles.

In essence, soil conservation prevents degradation of the soil, and promotes increased crop yields, plant growth, and a healthy soil ecosystem. Degraded soil can no longer support plant life so to protect soil health, farmers typically employ a soil conservation method or practice.

Crop rotation is a common farming method that allows growers to optimize their harvests based on the change in seasons. This method may be beneficial to sloped lands as it reduces wind and water erosion in the soil. However, growing crops year-round eventually depletes soil nutrients, leading farmers to practice soil conservation.

How Does It Work?

A combination of soil conservation techniques are put in place to keep the soil health in good shape. Growers often work with agricultural researchers to identify the kind of nutrients their particular plots require for crop rotation throughout different seasons. From there, they can determine which soil organic matter will best preserve the quality of land.

Organic matter is added to decompose and distribute essential nutrients, and improve soil health. Soil needs decomposing plant matter like crop residue, fibers, and processed compost to increase the level of nutrients in the soil structure.

This includes practices such as applying vermicast to the soil, or watering crops with liquid fertilizer to aid in nutrient supply. Soil organic matter contributes to soil fertility by adding nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium.

Other ways to preserve the quality of soil health is to disturb the soil as little as possible. Conservation tillage prepares the land for crops without causing soil compaction, preventing soil erosion as a result. Wind erosion poses another threat to soil health, so farmers install windbreakers above their plots to prevent further soil erosion.

The Different Practices of Soil Conservation

Soil conservation requires a combination of different practices that are consciously implemented to improve the quality of the soil. Farming practices such as conservation tillage reduce erosion, while strip cropping combats wind to prevent soil erosion in farmlands.

Soil health is tested through the concentration of dissolved nutrients in the soil. Properties of quality soil should include a high concentration of organic matter content, a large population of beneficial bacteria, and optimal pH levels to grow a variety of forage crops and cover crops. Water quality should also improve in healthy land. Other practices include:

  1. Contour farming - Farming to the natural contour of the land, rather than up and down the slope. Doing so decreases stress on the land, and preserves the quality of soil without disturbing its natural ecosystem.
  2. No-till farming - Preventing soil erosion through no-till farming helps keep the nutrients intact, as the soil is undisturbed during the preparation process.
  3. Controlling Erosion - Typically done in streams, Rip Rap and Gabion Basket methods make use of rocks and boulders to steady the underlying loose soil surface beneath streams, controlling soil erosion.
  4. Strip cropping - Growing crops that mature with different heights, with the taller plants forming a strip around shorter crops like a windbreaker. These taller plants prevent soil erosion by blocking wind currents from sweeping away the top layer.
  5. Growing cover crops - Cover crops generally improve soil health, suppress weeds, and promote water infiltration in the land through soil aggregates. These include alfalfa, raddish, mustard, and buckwheat plants.
  6. Planting nitrogen-fixing plants  - Some plants have the ability to make use of the excess nitrogen in the soil, leading to a more balanced level of nutrients in the land. Growers may opt to keep a few nitrogen-loving plants along with their crops to balance the pH levels of the arable land.
  7. Composting - Processing organic matter to be used as a natural, organic fertilizer in place of chemical fertilizers and synthetic fertilizers that may contribute to land degradation. Vermicomposting is a common method of processing organic matter into natural fertilizer for use in gardening and farming.

The Benefits of Soil Conservation

The benefits of soil conservation are immeasurable, as agricultural soil only covers around 38% of the planet. The tiny percentage of usable land for farming and other agricultural practices means that there is a limited amount of soil that can be utilized for resource production; hence, soil conservation benefits the population the most as it creates a sustainable ecosystem.

Soil conservation is beneficial for sediment control, and can be financially beneficial to farmers as they no longer need to spring for fertilizers, pest control costs, fuel, and labor. When the soil is fertile and ready to use in agriculture, farmers don't need to worry about soil conditioners or water holding capacity.

Conserving the Future

Agricultural and urban soil erosion are among the serious ecological problems ailing land areas as soil nutrient depletion leads to loss of agricultural land, as well as the loss of wildlife habitat for many animals. Healthy soils promote ecological flourishing, whereas soil infertility leads to environmental degradation. Soil conservation is the key to conserving the future.