Due to its unparalleled importance, the repercussions of loss in soil fertility are disastrous. Just like humans derive nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for healthy growth from a balanced diet, plants obtain the necessary nutrients to improve their yields and sustain their growth from highly fertile soil.
What is Soil Fertility?
Soil fertility refers to the ability of soil to provide essential nutrients to plants for growth. This concept is a measure of a soil’s capacity to support plant life not only by providing all necessary nutrients in adequate amounts but also by maintaining an appropriate pH level, offering a good soil structure, and keeping a satisfactory water-holding capacity.
Although soil productivity (fertile soil + management-related factors, climatic factors, etc) determines crop productivity, the relationship between fertility methods and crop productivity is direct – that is, the higher the soil fertility, the higher the likelihood of better yield.
Components of Soil Fertility
Soil comprises 45% inorganic salt, 25% air, 25% water, and 5% organic matter. A soil is said to be fertile when it contains a perfect blend of the elements above. Fertile soil is the one that coordinates and supplies the nutrient, air, water, and heat needed for plant growth in an appropriate manner.
Fertile soil provides the following:
- A favorable environment that allows soil microorganisms to operate appropriately.
- All elements of micro and macronutrients are beneficial to the plant’s growth.
- A good ventilating system.
- Has a good water holding capacity and an effective drainage system.
- Low compactness.
Factors making the soil fertile
It indicates the accessible nutrients for plant use. The soil PH scale ranges from 0-14 and there is no fixed Soil PH for all crops – each crop has its suitable PH for its perfect growth. Any soil PH above 7 is alkaline, anywhere below 7 is acidic and 7 itself is neutral.
Soil PH shows how acidic or alkaline a soil is and it estimates the population of hydrogen ions (H+) in the soil solution. While some crops attain maximum growth at the acidic level(blueberries and azaleas), the majority of the plants prefer neutral soil PH or PH closer to a neutral level (6.0 – 7.0).
Presence of Organic matter
Organic materials contain biodegradable or recyclable substances which are needed for the subsequent growing cycle. Increasing organic matter content implies improving soil fertility.
Moisture content refers to the quantity of water absorbed by the soil. Not all absorbed water is accessible for plant growth. A large proportion is stored in the soil as a thin layer which later dissolves salt and forms a soil solution needed as a nutrient for plant growth.
When the moisture content of the soil is at the optimal level, it grants plants easy access to nutrients. The moisture content has a positive relationship with soil fertility. When it is high, the fertility is high and vice versa.
Incompatibility or Hostility of Some Nutrients
The availability of some nutrients inversely affects the others. That is, more of one leads to less of the other. For example, the higher the potassium in the soil means the lower the magnesium.
Soil density measures the thickness of the soil and it differs among soil types. It determines the soil’s ability to support the growth of the crops.
Soils that are highly compacted are undesirable for growing crops because the soils hinder the root from going deeply into the soil which restricts plants from absorbing enough nutrients. Therefore, plant growth will be poor.
The high Soil density is a sign of poor porosity which may be caused by administrative policies like tillage, grazing, etc. It obstructs root growth, deters the constant flow of water and air within the soil, and exposes soil to erosion. High bulk density is minimized by adding a substantial amount of organic components into the soil.
Aside from the type of clay minerals and organic matter content available in the soil, the clay content is also one of the factors to consider when verifying the soil CEC.
It explains the citation exchange capacity (CEC) of the soil. Soil CEC relies on the quantity and kind of soil colloids available.
Through leaching, soils with low clay content may lose their nutrients which is not the case with high CEC. A soil with higher CEC stores enough nutrients for plant uptake compared to soil with Lesser CEC.
How to make the soil fertile?
There are two ways – organic or inorganic.
Organic ways such as crop rotation, bush fallowing, no-till farming, growing cover crops, use of manures, weed control, etc. These are some of the organic measures that are used to preserve the fertility of the soil.
Also called mulching, it consists of covering the ground using leaves or other organic material. Thus, moisture is retained for longer, and erosion is reduced. As there are more living beings aerating and facilitating the generation of nutrients, the fertility of the soil increases.
2. Use of Cover Crops
Cover crops help to aerate the soil and by decomposing their leaves, they provide nutrients. For example, legumes generate nitrogen, while grass improves structure.
3. Use of Organic Matter
Decomposed manure provides nutrients immediately, which favors greater soil fertility, but it is vitally important to avoid spreading some disease-causing agents when using homemade manure.
4. Tillage Minimization
Continuous tillage exposes the lower layers, usually those with moisture, causing the water to evaporate and lowering the moisture level in the soil; In addition, it also favors greater soil erosion and, therefore, lower fertility. By tilling as little as possible, existing organic matter can break down and provide nutrients.
5. Soil Analysis
Carrying out a soil analysis helps to understand what nutrients are necessary for it. Since soil types are different, the amounts to maintain fertility may vary.
Depending on the type, some crops may be planted and depending on what types of chemical products may be used to eliminate pests and diseases.
A healthy and balanced soil in nutrients favors the growth of crops and the existence of microorganisms.
6. Crop Rotation
Crop rotation is a planned chronological cycle of crops in one field over several years. If it is properly done, it provides positive individual and cumulative effects, such as positive previous crop effects, the regulation of harmful organisms and weeds and the improvement of soil fertility through humus increase, nutrient fixation and mobilization.
Another advantage of diverse crop rotations is the improvement of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Also, it shapes and enriches locations, habitats and landscapes. The organic method has proven to be the most effective and beneficial to the soil and the farmer.
However, a major setback is that it takes a substantial period for the results to be apparent. For example, crop rotation extends for a minimum of three to four years before the soil regains its lost nutrients or annihilates the pests and diseases on the soil.
We want to improve our soil nutrients yet we don’t want to wait for eternity. Then what can we do? This is where the inorganic method comes in.
Inorganic Methods to Make the Soil Fertile
Inorganic methods include using fertilizers and some other man-made products to make our soil productive within the shortest amount of time( within a year). Below are proven and tested products that you can use on your soil to boost its fertility.
1. Smart Use Of Fertilizers
The use of fertilizer eliminates the microorganisms in the soil that aerate it and provide nutrients. Therefore, it is advisable to use only the necessary amount, this is usually known after carrying out a soil test.
There is a common myth that the more the application of fertilizers to the soil, the higher the soil vitamin. This is wrong. Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides(inorganic method) degrades soil fertility.
2. Compost Tea (Black Liquid Gold)
This is an environmentally friendly, non-polluting, and economical fertilizer favored by farmers to harbor the plant from certain microbes. It’s purely organic and easy to make. That is, you can do it yourself provided you have compost.
- It doesn’t infiltrate soil nutrients. Hence, soil health is improved.
- Good tea boosts the water holding capacity of the soil, thus the watering of foliage is minimized.
- It loosens clay soil by assisting water and air to penetrate. Also, it empowers sandy soil to conserve water and nutrients.
- Compost Tea contains beneficial microbes that fight off pests and diseases.
3. Alfalfa Meal or Pellets
It is a commonly used soil-nurturing meal that has existed for years. It’s a two-purpose meal – beneficial to animals and plants. Alfalfa meal is highly proteinous which makes it an adept buffet for soil pathogens.
- Alfalfa has a hormone called triacontanol that triggers plant growth and supports photosynthesis which impedes phytoparasitic pests.
- It helps the soil to retain enough water which the plants will absorb during drought times.
Crop Monitoring provides a zoning feature that allows farmers to create a field productivity map. This map presents the least and most productive areas by grouping fields according to NDVI values and displaying information using a dynamic color or palette.
You can do all this with GeoPard’s cloud-based analytics for agricultural data. It helps you implement bioprospecting methods, recommending areas of the farm that make sense to use for special crops, trees, and flowers. And then the farmer gets subsidies from the government.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do primary consumers make the soil more fertile?
Primary consumers, such as herbivorous animals, play a crucial role in making the soil more fertile through their feeding and waste deposition. As they consume plant material, they break it down into smaller particles, aiding in the process of decomposition.
Their waste, rich in organic matter and nutrients, gets deposited on the soil surface or incorporated into the soil through burrowing. This organic matter nourishes the soil, improves its structure, and enhances nutrient cycling, ultimately promoting fertility and supporting plant growth.Whats