It deals with the protection of soil from the physical loss by erosion (by wind and water) or chemical deterioration. Thus, soil conservation is concerned with a combination of all management and land use method that safeguard the soil against deterioration by natural or human induced factors.
Soil conservation is the protection of soil from erosion and other types of deterioration, so as to maintain soil fertility and productivity. It generally includes watershed management and water use.
Soil conservation is the prevention of loss of the top most layer of the soil from erosion or prevention of reduced fertility caused by over usage, acidification, salinization or other chemical soil contamination.
Importance of Soil Conservation: Soil is the basis for sustenance for 7 billion people. It preserves clean water and helps regulate the climate. Soil degradation reduces agricultural yields and threatens farmers' livelihoods. Soil that has been leached of its nutrients cannot support crops, or plants that prevent desertification.
Objectives of Soil Conservation: To sustain the production from natural resources to meet the basic requirements of food, shelter and clothing of growing population. To preserve topsoil to reduce deterioration in soil fertility and the water holding capacity, thus sustaining productivity.
The aims of soil conservation in a world that needs more food can be stated briefly:
- to avoid erosion and other forms of soil degradation by using land in accordance with its capabilities;
- to apply measures to restore the productivity of the soil where it has been damaged and to prevent further damage from taking place; and
- to combine sound methods of soil management with other methods and inputs of modern agriculture to obtain satisfactory production on a sustained basis.
Translating these deceptively simple aims into action will be a demanding task. At a minimum, developing workable soil conservation programmes will require a number of concurrent activities, calling for a determined and continuing commitment to conservation by each country's leadership. Other requirements include:
- making an inventory of the condition of each country's agricultural soils and other resources and an assessment of what it will take to repair those that are damaged;
- sharing information on managing each type of soil among countries and conducting further research to develop sustainable farming systems for tropical soils;
- passing new legislation to establish a soil conservation agency and extension programme and funding the work at a high enough level to obtain satisfactory results;
- strengthening local institutions to support improved farming methods and involving local people in the development and application of these systems;
- providing technical conservation assistance from national and international organizations, both public and private, to developing countries that request such assistance.
- Benefits of Soil Conservation: Humankind in general and farmers in particular benefit from numerous advantages of soil conservation. This agricultural practice contributes to sustainability in a number of ways:
- Boosts earth quality and productivity. Maintaining the natural environment for earth-dwelling organisms increases fertility and reduces the necessity of chemical fertilizing, thus boosting yields and saving costs at the same time.
- Mitigates erosion. Soil conservation methods to reduce erosion and depletion help agriculturalists to avoid the expansion of new lands when territories become infertile.
- Promotes water infiltration and increases its storage. The soil conservation technique of minimum tillage vs. conventional plowing affects soil moisture by reducing cracking and evaporation as well as rising the infiltration rate.
- Aids air and water purification. The importance of soil conservation relates to water supplies, and the earth functions as a natural filter to purify water. Soil conservation mitigates the concentration of pollutants and sediments. In its turn, water is the basic condition to dissolve nutrients for plants. Soil carbon sequestration and reduced chemical applications contribute to air purity, too.
- Gives food and shelter for wildlife. Land with growing vegetation is a living environment for animals; it is not only the source for nourishment but their home as well.
Soil Conservation Practices
Different types of soil conservation methods ensure long-term usage of land and keep it productive for future generations. Let’s consider their benefits in regard to soil conservation.
The soil conservation technique aims at addressing wind and water erosion by covering the earth with vegetation (either crops or their residues) and limiting the number of tilling operations. Another significant aspect is to choose the proper time for field operations, depending on the soil types. For example, clay ones are better to till after harvesting while other types are better to plow before seeding. Also, handling wet soils leads to their compaction.
No-till farming assists in soil conservation as well since it implies no or minimum disturbance and planting seeds into the crop residue. The basic idea is not to leave soil bare, as bare areas are highly prone to erosion, and plants keep it in place with their root systems. Additionally, vegetation accumulates moisture for future crops.
The soil conservation method proves efficient in slope territories and suggests planting species along the contour. Rows up and down the slope provoke soil erosion due to water currents while rows along the contour restrain it.
In this case, farmers combine high-growing crops with low-growing ones for the sake of wind protection, like when corn grows in strips with forage crops. The practice works even better when high-growing crops are intensified in the sides where winds blow most frequently. An extra benefit is the organic matter material from the low crops.
As the name suggests, this soil conservation practice is used to reduce the power of winds and its disruptive effect on soil. These are trees or bushes to shelter crops from snow and winds planted in several rows. Depending on the number of rows, we can distinguish windbreaks properly (up to five rows) and shelterbelts (six and more). Windbreak vegetation also provides a living environment for wildlife and eliminates soil abrasion on crops due to strong wind blows.
Crop rotation vs. monocropping farming suggests changing agro species instead of planting one and the same for many subsequent seasons. Farmers applying this soil conservation method reap numerous benefits. Crop rotation helps them improve the earth structure with diverse root systems, to mitigate pest establishments, and to add nitrogen to the land with legumes known as nitrogen-fixing plants.
The choice of crops to rotate is specific for each agricultural enterprise and highly depends on historical weather and productivity data. Some plants proved to be efficient in recent years, and some did not. Such information is available on Crop Monitoring alongside daily weather and forecasts up to two weeks ahead, including precipitation, min/max temperatures, and anticipated risks. Furthermore, vegetation indices such as NDVI, MSAVI, NDMI, and ReCI help to inspect crop health at each growth stage. With this toolkit set, Crop Monitoring assists in comprehensive analysis of the field and crops states.
This soil conservation technique is another way to avoid bare soils and additionally benefit from planting cover crops – secondary species – in-between growing cash crops for different reasons like to:
- produce forage and grazing material for cattle;
- provide green manure;
- assist in weed control;
- retain moisture;
- ensure a natural environment for microorganisms and minor animals;
- balance nitrogen concentration (either releasing or accumulating it with certain plants).
These are trees and bushes on the banks of water bodies to prevent sediment, water wash offs. Their roots fix the soil to avoid slumping and erosion, canopies protect from excessive sunlight to water inhabitants and falling leaves are a source of organic matter and food of minor aquatic animals.
A grassed waterway is just what it is called. This is a furrow for water streams covered with grass. It is connected to a ditch, pit, or current to collect water, and the grassroots keep the earth in place, protecting it from water erosion, and thus contributing to soil conservation.
Step Away From Synthetic Fertilizers And Pesticides
Chemicals application to control weed and pest infestations are harmful to the environment and undesired in soil conservation. This is why switching to alternative ways to address the problem is highly important in agriculture and organic farming in particular. These alternatives are biological and cultural options when fertility is restored with green and animal manure, compost, crop rotation, and other methods of non-chemical control.
Integrated Pest Management
Pests are a great nuisance to agriculturalists and have been a major issue to tackle while chemicals poison nature leaking to water and the atmosphere. It is important to eliminate synthetic herbicides replacing them with organic ones or establishing biological enemies of pests whenever possible, rotating crop species to minimize increasing pest populations in the same field for years, and using alternative techniques in complex.