Soil fertility has gone down over the years. With increasing world hunger and worsening food security, this might not be a loss we can bear. This is a significant issue in parts of the planet and goes onto impact communities in a range of countries.
Soil erosion may happen due to
- Erosion of soil to extreme weather events liked floods, rainfall, and bushfires
- Overuse, acidification and chemical contamination of soil
- Reduced utilization and management of farmland
You can also read more about soil erosion with us.
The loss of productivity can occur in various other ways as well. These include waterlogging, acid rain and other environmental factors.
However, the good thing is that we can tackle this issue. There are several ways that we can prevent soil loss through simple soil conservation methods.
Table of Contents
- What is Soil Conservation?
- Why is Soil Conservation Important?
- 24 Soil Conservation Methods and Practices
- 1. Terrace Farming
- 2. Contour plowing
- 3. Keyline Design
- 4. Windbreaks
- 5. Perimeter Runoff Control
- 6. Cover crop/ crop rotation
- 7. Re-establish forest cover
- 8. Salinity Management
- 9. Streambank Protection
- 10. Earthworms
- 11. Mineralization
- 12. Agrostological measures
- 13. Practicing no-till farming
- 14. Green Manure
- 15. Korean Natural Farming
- 16. Dry Farming
- 17. Soil Conservation Farming
- 18. Organic Farming
- 19. Reduce the Use of Impervious Surfaces
- 20. Rain Garden
- 21. Maintenance of Ph levels in Soil
- 22. Indigenous crops
- 23. Prevent Overgrazing on Farmland
- 24. Restore Wetlands
- What is the Soil Conservation Act?
What is Soil Conservation?
Soil conservation is a method to keep soil fertility at optimum levels. This protects the farmer’s livelihood from deteriorating farm health.
Fortunately, we have some soil conservation methods for you to read up on. Hopefully you won’t need to employ soil conservation services after reading our article.
Why is Soil Conservation Important?
Soil conservation is vital. It goes on to save our soil from harsh weather and prevents soil erosion. Conservation of the land allows replenishment of nutrients that may be lost during agricultural practice.
The more we go onto conserve soil, the more the crops will be able to grow and get money. The soil itself is a habitat for various organisms.
It provides services to various organisms like raw material, shelter, and food allowing its population to thrive. This will also help to maintain the species diversity in the ecosystem.
It also helps to mitigate climate change by becoming a breeding ground for crops, plants, and trees that trap carbon. This ultimately reduces the greenhouse gas effect of atmospheric CO2.
24 Soil Conservation Methods and Practices
1. Terrace Farming
Terracing is a method in which hilly areas are created into multiple flat levelled places.
Steps are built on a terrace that is surrounded by a mud wall to prevent the runoff of soil and hold the soil nutrients in the beds.
2. Contour plowing
Contour plowing has originated from ancient Phoenicia. This involves plowing grooves into the desired farmland. The farmers then plant the crop furrows inside grooves and follow the contours.
It is a highly effective way for farms located on slopes to prevent runoff and improve crop yield.
3. Keyline Design
An enhanced version of contour plowing, Keyline design aims to maximize water retention on the field. They design the farmland by considering all the watershed properties when making contour lines.
Keyline design is a landscaping technique which changes topographic features linked to water flow. This will naturally improve efficiency of water use throughout the land.
Additionally, it will also make the water run off to flow directly into a pre-existing channel and prevent soil erosion caused by water.
Rows of tall trees are formed in dense patterns around the farmland to prevent wind erosion. These tree corridors are known as Windbreaks.
Evergreen trees can provide us with year-round protection. However, deciduous trees can also be adequate. Deciduous trees have prolonged foliage apparent during seasons when the soil is barren.
5. Perimeter Runoff Control
It is planting trees, shrubs, and ground cover around the perimeter of your farmland. This leads to resistance in surface flows and thereby allows nutrients to remain preserved in the farmed fertile soil.
This will also protect the environment from nutrient pollution.
6. Cover crop/ crop rotation
Cover crops like radishes and turnips are rotated with cash crops to create a blanket (cover) for the soil throughout the year.
A barren soil quickly loses its fertility to the harsh environment.
This will also produce green manure to replenish nitrogen and other critical nutrients for the soil. Using these cover crops can also suppress the formation of weed on farmland.
Here’s the best guide to Crop Rotation out there.
7. Re-establish forest cover
A forest with dense trees develops a vast and intricate network of deep roots. These roots can offer a long term solution to soil erosion. This is an addition to the windbreak effect of trees mentioned earlier.
8. Salinity Management
Once water is evaporated from the soil, it leaves salt behind. This increased salinity in the ground can damage the soil and cause loss of nutrients.
Humic acids can prevent this issue and greatly help with salinity management. Growing plants like the saltbush can rejuvenate soil and replenish lost nutrients as well.
9. Streambank Protection
During flooding, stream banks can often cave in. This can be prevented by constructing walls or planting useful tree species along the stream banks.
This will prevent loss of soil down the stream. These streambanks are often known as riparian buffer zones.
Earthworms are beneficial for farmland. This is because of the way they burrow underground and provide more water to rest after it infiltrates the soil.
Earthworms excrete egests which sit in the soil. This offers many nutrients for crops that can be absorbed by the plants’ roots.
The casts of earthworms contain more nutrition than any other natural soil on the planet. For this reason, worms should be invited into farmland to help prevent soil erosion and improve your crop yield.
To allow crops to achieve a much higher yield, crushed rock or chemicals can be used on the farmland as well. This will ultimately combat mineral depletion in the soil.
This conservation method is usually used after flooding. Flooding brings sedimentation which damages the soil’s nutrient level.
12. Agrostological measures
The plantation of grass in areas that are eroded is called agrostological measures. They take their time, but can reverse the erosion over the following years.
Ley farming practices cultivating hemp in rotation with regular crops increase nutrient level in the soil.
Once this grass is ready to be harvested, it can then be used as cattle fodder. For heavily eroded soil, it is recommended to grow hemp grasses for the soil to naturally repair itself over the next few years.
13. Practicing no-till farming
Tilling of soil may cause exposure of the soil to atmospheric elements, wind in particular. Once this soil is plowed, it will then become loose. It then blows or gets washed away during harsh weather conditions.
When no-till farming is practiced on the farmland; the old crop lies on top of the soil and protects it. This will reduce exposure to wind and other natural forces.
14. Green Manure
Green manure is a few different types of crops that are used as a fertilizer on the farmland. This method will help improve the soil structure and suppress growth of weeds.
Green manure is an organic fertilizer that is sourced from decaying plants lying over the field.
15. Korean Natural Farming
Korean Natural Farming takes the benefit of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) like Bacteria, Fungi, Nematodes and Protozoa to produce fertile soils.
These soils have a higher yield without use of herbicides or pesticides.
This method improves overall soil health; specifically loaminess, tilth and structure. These soils are also attractive to earth worms.
Due to its effectiveness, Korean Natural Farming has spread to more than 30 countries and practiced from smallest of individual farms to largest of commercial farmlands.
16. Dry Farming
Dry farming is usually practiced in arid regions which have minimal rainfall throughout the year.
In areas with minimal rainfall, crops that require very little water should be the preferred choice. This will help to preserve the natural levels of moisture and nutrients in the soil.
17. Soil Conservation Farming
Soil conservation farming is a mixture of different farming methods that are intended to mimic the biology of virgin land (pristine or untouched).
These practices can be used to prevent soil erosion and restore damaged soil to encourage plant growth.
Elimination of nitrogen fertilizer and fungicides can also increase the yield and protect the crop from drought and flooding.
18. Organic Farming
If you choose to go organic; harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer usage will reduce drastically. This will simply be because you don’t need them. Organic farming fulfills your fertilizer needs without different forms of pollution.
This will help to conserve soil and prevent excessive loss of nutrients.
Organic farming also tends to work with the soil’s natural systems and encourages other organisms like bugs and fungi to keep the soil healthy.
19. Reduce the Use of Impervious Surfaces
Driveway patios and paved pathways allow rainfall to flow freely off of them.
As the water starts to flow, it picks up speed and erodes soil that comes in its way. This mainly happens when the water flows over impervious surfaces.
Hence, reducing the amount of them around your farmland will prevent unwanted erosion.
20. Rain Garden
A rain garden is a shallow depression in a land. It collects and stores water runoff from impervious surfaces. It also prevents erosion while saving nutrients that may get washed away.
A rain garden also provides the perfect bed to grow wetland plants.
21. Maintenance of Ph levels in Soil
If the soil becomes excessively acidic due to acid rain and other pollutants, it may lead to loss of soil fertility.
Use a pH indicator to check the acidity levels in the soil every month. Treat the soils with eco-friendly chemicals to prevent loss of crop yield.
22. Indigenous crops
Growing indigenous crops can be an excellent way to conserve soil. As those plants have a natural need to pull nutrients in the soil, they will help prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss.
However, if you still choose to grow non-indigenous crops, it is recommended to plant indigenous crops around them. This will also help prevent soil erosion.
23. Prevent Overgrazing on Farmland
Try to prevent overgrazing in one part of the land. You can ensure this by moving herds around more often.
If cattle grazes in one area for longer periods of time, you will lose ground cover. This will accelerate the process of desertification.
If there is over-grazing, plant nutrient-rich forage in that area. They can help rebuild soil fertility. You can also harvest these crops and feed them to the grazers during the winter season.
24. Restore Wetlands
Wetlands are highly effective in preventing soil erosion. They have great absorbing power.
Wetlands can absorb excess water (including excess rainfall) which would cause flooding otherwise. They will also help keep the water clean and keep the soil enriched; keeping the ecosystem healthy.
What is the Soil Conservation Act?
On 27th April 1935, President Roosevelt signed The Soil Conservation Act. The main purpose of that law was “To provide for the protection of land resources against soil erosion, and for other purposes”.
Severe droughts occurring in the Great Plains were the main reason behind creation of the Soil Conservation Act. These droughts are often referred to as the Dust Bowl. Starting in 1932, continuous drought conditions caused havoc among the farmlands of the Great Plains.
It started with lower yields and quickly ramped up to widespread crop failures. The loss of vegetation exposed the fertile topsoil layer to strong blowing winds. To make things worse, a huge dust storm on 11th May 1934 cleared fine soil particles 300 miles over to the Atlantic Ocean. It was a major loss of fertile land!
The Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was aimed at protecting American soil by enacting measures to preserve natural resources, control floods, prevent impairment of reservoirs and promote natural flow of rivers all the while protecting public health, public lands and and retrieve lost employment.
In 1936, this act was further refined and amended to Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act. This enhanced federal contribution to the matter. The main aim of this enhanced act was to discourage overuse of farmlands, assist tenants and sharecroppers and stabilize prices of farm goods.
To make it simple, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act allowed the government to provide financial relief to farmers who had to reduce production to conserve soil and prevent worsening soil erosion.
Ultimately, farmers began to employ soil conservation methods to preserve and improve fertility.
Three years after the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment act was adopted, soil erosion had reduced by up to 22%!
This is a glaring example of how soil conservation methods can actually reduce soil erosion. Farmers from countries all around the world should learn from this example and start employing these methods to protect their soil, and ultimately, their livelihood.