Conservation tillage systems can increase soil organic matter, which has many benefits to agriculture in the Southeast. Changing management by moving from inversion to non-inversion tillage or no-till is a good first step, but to maximize soil organic matter content, a crop rotation with heavy-residue crops and cover crops needs to be employed. These practices leave more carbon in the soil in the form of organic matter than is lost through erosion or decomposition. Soils with greater amounts of organic matter resist compaction and have improved infiltration, water-holding capacity, fertility and disease resistance. All of these factors ultimately affect productivity.
A farm’s soil type, machinery, cash crops and other production factors will determine the best system for that farm. To achieve long-term sustainability and to enhance soil health for farms in the southeastern United States, focus on these principles:
• Reduce soil disturbance by using no-till or reduced tillage.
• Keep soil covered with cover crops and crop residues.
• Enhance biodiversity with crop rotations and integration of crop and livestock systems.