3. Building Healthy Soils for Healthy Crops
Feed the soil, not the plant is a foundational principle of organic soil management but what does this really mean? Joel Gruver of Western Illinois University and Lori Hoagland of Purdue University will discuss practical applications to improve soil structure, nutrient cycling and ultimately crop health and productivity. Case studies of successful organic row crop, orchard and vegetable farms will be used to showcase “feed the soil strategies” in action.
This course will take you through the fascinating physical, biological and chemical interactions of a living soil. Learning the characteristics of soil will help you identify what types are present on your farm as well as help you develop management strategies to improve soil health and increase crop productivity. You will learn that some soils may have limiting factors that may not be mitigated by your activities.
Joel and Lori are planning many hands-on activities, helping you feel and see various soil structural properties, estimate organic matter content, and test for pH, electrical conductivity and microbial activity. They’ll present an online resource you can use to determine the various soils on your farm, leading you to plan for optimal production for those soil types. They’ll also cover other online tools to help you choose cover crops and estimate nutrient availability from organic amendments for optimal production scenarios.
There will be a basic overview of the biological life present in the soil and its role in crop and environmental health. This will include examples of how soil biological life impacts nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration and pathogen dynamics. Soil management practices, such as building organic matter, reducing soil erosion and soil tillage, incorporating cover crops and augmenting soils with composts, manures, mulches and microbial inoculants, can influence microbial activity and diversity, and impact soil tilth and crop productivity.
Effective management of nutrients is essential not only for achieving optimal crop nutrition, but also for reducing pest and disease problems that might be caused by nutrient imbalances. Crop nutrient requirements, impact of pH on nutrient availability, and use of soil and plant tissue tests to determine optimal soil fertility management will be covered. Avoiding pest and disease problems through proper nutrient management as well as crop rotations, use of cover crops, intercropping, improving drainage and organic amendments will be provided through various examples and discussion. An overview of how to conduct on-farm research trials and evaluate soil health on the farm will also be provided to help participants identify best management practices. A booklet full of additional resources and references will be provided that you can refer to throughout the year, and reflect on what you learned and experienced during this course.