Improved soil organic matter management is at the heart of building better soils—creating a habitat below the ground that is suited to optimal root development and health. This means adding adequate annual quantities, tons per acre, of a variety of organic materials— crop residue, manure, composts, leaves, etc.—while not overloading the soil with nutrients from off the farm. It also means reducing the losses of soil organic matter as the result of excess tillage or erosion. But we’re not just interested in the amount of organic matter in soil. Even if the organic matter content of the soil doesn’t increase greatly—and it takes a while to find out whether it’s increasing—better management will provide more active (particulate or “dead”) organic matter that fuels the complex soil web of life, helps in formation of soil aggregates, and provides plant growth–stimulating chemicals, as well as reducing plant pest pressures. For a variety of reasons, it is easier to build and maintain higher levels of organic matter in animal-based systems than in those growing only crops. However, there are ways to improve organic matter management in any cropping system.
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Table of Contents
- About the Authors
- Healthy Soils
- Organic Matter: What It Is and Why It's So Important
- Amount of Organic Matter in Soils
- The Living Soil
- Soil Particles, Water, and Air
- Soil Degradation: Erosion, Compaction, and Contamination
- Nutrient Cycles and Flows
- Soil Health, Plant Health, and Pests
- Managing for High Quality Soils: Organic Matter, Soil Physical Condition, Nutrient Availability
- Cover Crops
- Crop Rotations
- Animal Manures for Increasing Organic Matter and Supplying Nutrients
- Making and Using Composts
- Reducing Erosion and Runoff
- Preventing and Lessening Compaction
- Reducing Tillage
- Managing Water: Irrigation and Drainage
- Nutrient Management: An Introduction
- Management of Nitrogen and Phosphorus
- Other Fertility Issues: Nutrients, CEC, Acidity, and Alkalinity
- Getting the Most From Routine Soil Tests
- Taking Soil Samples
- Accuracy of Recommendations Based on Soil Tests
- Sources of Confusion About Soil Tests
- Soil Testing for Nitrogen
- Soil Testing for P
- Testing Soils for Organic Matter
- Interpreting Soil Test Results
- Adjusting a Soil Test Recommendation
- Making Adjustments to Fertilizer Application Rates
- Managing Field Nutrient Variability
- The Basic Cation Saturation Ratio System
- Summary and Sources
- How Good Are Your Soils? Field and Laboratory Evaluation of Soil Health
- Putting It All Together