Just when we thought the headache of 2019 was behind us, enter in 2020 and the age of self-quarantine. For most farmers, who already live a life of social distancing, COVID-19 just added a bit more noise to our already noisy lives.
As we all adapt to this new normal, we must remember that 2019’s wet season remains an open wound. If not addressed, it could spell trouble for this year’s crop. Here are a few tips and things to check when managing your soil’s productivity and profitability this season.
Water is Water, Right?
Rain differs from irrigation water in purity. Rain does not carry excess background salts and ions. Those who use irrigation water often test for these salts. Dryland farmers may not be as familiar. Regardless of your management or laboratory testing, all farmers can use an electrical conductivity meter to test the purity of there water source and learn how it effects soil productivity.
The electrical conductivity of rain typically ranges below < 50 ERGS whereas most irrigation water is > 700 ERGS. Therefore, an inch of rain will effect soil differently than an inch of irrigation water. Most of you are aware of this, but what happens when we we have too much rain? Can there ever be too much of a good thing?
Soil Productivity is a Balance
Often, when it comes to excess rain, we think in terms of leaching nitrate and sulfate anions. And while this is absolutely a concern, we are also interested in more than simply anions. So, how does excess rain effect soil productivity and soil health?
When the soil solution becomes saturated with water low in cations, such as rain water, the liquid and solid phases of the soil can get out of balance. This imbalance creates dispersive or highly erodible soil conditions.
Dispersive soil conditions exhibit high levels of shrink swell and low soil productivity. When soil moisture is at field capacity, field and crop conditions often look good, but as the soil begins to dry out, these dispersive sediments compact and can suffocate soil resulting in unproductive soil conditions.
Accurate measurements of soil electrolyte balance require saturated paste and ammonium acetate soil testing. A simpler approach is to measure your soils electrical conductivity (EC) with a hand held EC tester. These simple tools give us real time numbers of the soil or water’s ion concentration and electrolyte balance. Useful numbers if you wanted to maintain soil structure and aerobic soil conditions.
This spring, if your soil is below 600 ERGS, expect low soil productivity. If you are a conventional farmer, be prepared to react and frequently scout your fields and soil conditions. Being preventative in your management can make the difference in profitability.
Monitor Soil Electrical Conductivity
For many 2020 needs to be a good if not great year. And, if our weather holds out for planting, spring potentially could be a return to normal… somewhat. However, when the soils begin to dry out and rains are scarce in the summer, watch for soil compaction. While nitrogen and micro’s might be the symptom, the cause, more often than not, may be dispersive soil sediments and a lack of available calcium in the soil solution. Without flocculation, it is very difficult to maintain soil productivity.
If you are organic, your toolbox looks a bit different. You don’t have the ability to play the “wait and see” game, you need to be checking your soil EC and compaction frequently, being prepared to react quickly with electrolyte solutions and biology if needed. Excessive moisture in 2019 leached biology as well as ions. The use of microbial inoculants and bio stimulants, such as our Bio-5 Compost Extract will be critical to restoring productivity to your soil in 2020.
- Monitor and measure your soil productivity (EC and compaction).
- Restore soil-water balance with available calcium electrolyte solutions.
- Inoculate your newly established pore space with microbial inoculants.
- FEED YOUR MICROBES – maintain EC throughout the season with bio-stimulants and microbial nutrition.
- Try to filter out the noise and stay safe.