Soil essential for everyday life

| April 4, 2018

COSHOCTON – Soil is responsible for everything we eat. Not only does soil produce vegetables, but it also produces the grass or grain for livestock. There are approximately 40 different types of soil and each can be used for different things. Coshocton County is mostly made up of silt loam soil, which is the most common soil characteristic in the State of Ohio.

The reason for a variety of soil types is due to the fact that soil is made up of three ingredients: sand, silt, and clay. The variety of soil depends on how much of each mineral is in the soil. Soil is made up of 45 percent rocks and minerals, five percent organic matter, 25 percent water, and 25 percent air.

The Coshocton Soil and Water Conservation District use conservation practices to find that perfect balance for farmers to grow and produce good and healthy crops. Certain soils are classified as being better than others for farming. Soil found in valleys may not be as productive due to wetness and poor drainage, causing roots to starve for oxygen.  The Coshocton SWCD can recommend drainage practices in this case to help make these soils more productive.

Coshocton SWCD can help interpret soil tests for farmers to help them understand the needs of their soil to grow their preferred crops.

“Our technicians work with producers to see what works best in their soil to produce a crop,” said Deb Bigelow, SWCD director.

Managing the soil has changed drastically in the last five to ten years. Where years ago, farmers were managing an entire field with the same method, many farmers are now managing their soil acre by acre and can apply different additives to each acre depending on what the soil needs to thrive. Only using enough nutrients for what a crop needs is important so the excess does not run off the landscape into waterways.

Erosion of top soil is also a concern among farmers, who use that top layer to plant their crop as that is where most of the nutrients are found. If the top soil erodes too much, crops won’t be able to grow.

“The cover crop program is a huge benefit for soil, not only for erosion protection, but it helps leave nutrients in the soil,” said Bigelow. “Getting that cover crop on early is a real asset to keeping that soil in place through the winter.”

Cover crops may have also helped this year with the harsh winter. The climate dictates everything that lives in the soil.

“Microbes, earthworms, pests, everything that lives in the soil are always changing,” said Zach Wallace, district technician. “If nothing is living in the soil, it would be sterile.”

Everything in the soil is interconnected, its nutrients, water-holding capacity, etc., and all contributes to soil health.

“Some people change what they’ve done to the soil and it’s changed how much crop they produce,” said Ryan Medley, district technician.

The physical properties and chemical properties of soil are what the Coshocton SWCD and local farmers try to manipulate to create the best scenario for planting a bountiful crop.

“Truly what it all gets back to is management,” said Medley. “We try to work with farmers to help them manage it the best they can.”

When warm weather finally arrives and farmers are itching to start planting, Medley suggests waiting until the soil is ready for planting.

“The soil is going to tell you when it’s ready,” said Medley. “If it comes up in blocks or mud when you’re tilling, it’s not ready yet. It’s too wet. It all goes back to the type of soil.”

Like anything else found in nature, soil has a life cycle. Soil is driven by oxygen and carbon dioxide. That life cycle can stop if the soil becomes too saturated as water will replace air in the soil or if there is excessive heat and no rain. The organisms living in the soil will either migrate or burn up.

Soil is made up of more than just the ground we walk on. It breaks down the deeper you go into layers called horizons. Not only does the soil type change across the landscape, but it also changes the further down you go.

Another way to help the health of soil is by crop rotation.

“Our ancestors did a lot of rotation crops,” said Medley. “They did a lot of annual crops, two to three years of hay, then one year of corn.”

Some farmers manage the soil with specific herbicides and fertilizer so they don’t have to rotate crops each year, but Bigelow suggests that rotation is still important for soil health and to help prevent erosion.

The best way to know what nutrients your soil needs is to have your soil tested. Local agriculture co-ops can pull soil samples, send them to the lab, and then an agronomist can help you interpret your results. SWCD technicians can also interpret these soil tests for agricultural purposes. For someone who has a garden or small farm, OSU Extension can send your samples to a lab and review the results with you.

For more information on how to have your soil tested, contact the Coshocton SWCD at 740-622-8087 ext. 4 or OSU Extension at 740-622-2265.

Read more about farming in our community in Down on the Farm!

Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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