Soil health can be defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. To achieve this goal, improving soil health focuses on four main principles:
- Maximizing living room
- Maximizing diversity
- Maximizing cover
- Minimizing disturbances
As you can see, even this definition recognizes that healthy soil should sustain greater biodiversity than solely planted crops. Instead, truly healthy soil sustains vibrant ecosystems that generate extra benefits for every organism involved. You might think more plants and animals in a field would actually restrict how much it can produce, but this isn’t always the case. Instead, balancing the soil’s ecosystem can improve yields, reduce pests and ensure every crop is getting all the nutrients needed to produce.
Farmers know their land best and can can identify the strategies that work best for them. Depending on their farming needs, they can improve specific elements of soil health such as:
- Nutrients: Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients are vital to healthy soil. Farmers can cycle in the right proportions of these nutrients, along with the right source, to maximize the growth of their crop.
- Water: Healthier soil allows water to reach further down, regulating infiltration and availability. Techniques that add and retain water in soil can expand what crops will be viable options for planting.
- Filtration and buffering: Minerals and microbes present in the soil can filter out, break down or detoxify a wide range of substances that would otherwise reduce its health. Maximizing residue and improving soil health reduce the runoff after extreme climate events, improving the entire ecosystem downstream.
- Physical stability and support: A firm soil structure helps anchor plant roots, preventing them from being blown over or uprooted.
- Biodiversity: Many regenerative and sustainable methods to improve soil quality don’t require more fertilizer or other man-made solutions. Instead, they allow nature to do the heavy lifting. Microbes, insects, companion crops and other organisms will autonomously help sustain the soil.