Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition

General Field Observations

Overview

A simple but very good place to start assessing a soil’s health is to look at its general performance as you go about your normal practices. It’s something like wondering about your own performance during the course of a day: Do you have less energy than usual? This might be an indication that something isn’t quite right. Likewise, there are signs of poor soil health you might notice as part of the normal process of growing crops:

  • Are yields declining?
  • Do your crops perform less well than those on neighboring farms with similar soils?
  • Do your crops quickly show signs of stress or stunted growth during wet or dry periods?
  • Do you notice any symptoms of nutrient deficiencies?
  • Is the soil obviously compacted, or does it plow up cloddy and take a lot of secondary tillage to prepare a fine seedbed?
  • Does the soil crust over easily, or do you observe signs of runoff and erosion?
  • Does it take more power than it used to to run tillage or planting equipment through the soil?
  • Do you notice increased problems with diseases or nutrient stress?

These questions are all indicators of soil health, and any affirmative answers should prompt you to consider further action.

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