How can I build soil organic matter?
Last week I shared with you the importance of soil organic matter and the many benefits it can give to your crop and soil. Organic matter is one of the hardest places to see improvements. The amount of time it takes to grow organic matter just half a percent can take many years. Today I will share with you a few strategies to start the process of building organic matter.
Grow your Organic Matter
The first way to build soil organic matter is to grow it. If you can grow a cash crop that is healthy and productive, you can grow more plant residue. Also managing the crop rotation can build soil organic matter. Rotating to a crop with a tremendous root system like cereal grains and even hay can build organic matter. A crop with huge amounts of plant residue above ground like corn can be a great way to build organic matter as well. Soybeans serve as a very valuable part of a crop rotation here in the Midwest and other parts of the country, but have very little crop residue. So if soybeans are in your rotation, you may be limiting your ability to build soil organic matter. Another great tool for building organic matter is to grow a crop in between your cash crop. Cover crops have become a viable way to improve the soil and keep vegetation growing on your field all year long. The more root you have below the soil surface and the more residue you can grow above, building soil organic matter will move upward.
Apply your Organic Matter
The next way to build soil organic matter is to apply organic matter. Livestock and poultry manure can both be used. Manure adds nutrients to the soil, improve biological activity and improving organic matter. The more bedding such as wood shavings and rice hauls the manure has in it, the more time it will take to break down this manure. This could prevent valuable nitrogen from being utilized by the cash crop. Be cautious about how much manure you apply over a long period of time. Even though it can be a good tool to improve the soil, you can create soil chemistry imbalances when you apply too much. Sewage sludge and other processing waste can be just as effective if you have a source that is available. The same cautions that apply to manure also apply to sewage sludge and processing waste as well. I don’t think it is wise to use manure as your only way to build organic matter, but it can use used with any number of the tools in this article.
The final way I will share with you to build soil organic matter is to reduce tillage. In the days of using the moldboard plow, soil would be turned over. This increases the amount of oxygen in the soil and increases degradation of the plant residues. This also allows carbon to easily escape verses allowing it to accumulate over time. Reduced tillage and in many cases no-till have been used to build soil organic matter. One positive effect of reduced tillage is also limiting the amount of erosion on your field. This loss of soil and organic matter is costly and unproductive.
I hope this helps give you some ideas on ways to improve soil organic matter. Just remember, the farmer renting your land should have a plan in order to improve organic matter. This plan should include ways to help make your land more productive. Good communication between you and them is very important. If not, it may be time for a change. If it is, Bird Dog can help.