Jennifer Carr, Ag & Natural Resources Agent
Barton County K-State Research and Ext
People walk on it, plant gardens and crops in it and build foundations over it, yet do not give soil a second thought. To most it is just dirt. According to Chuck Rice, distinguished professor of soil microbiology at Kansas State University, “dirt is just soil out of place”. “People need to think that soils are important,” he said, “just as important as water or air.”
Soil is more than dirt; it is used for food as well as medicine production. Did you know there are more organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on the planet? How about the fact that organisms in soil are used to treat human diseases or that antibiotics such as penicillin and streptomycin come from soil microbes.
According to Rice, the scientific community has barely even begun to tap into the diversity of soil microbes. “We only know one percent of those organisms in that spoonful of soil,” Rice said. “It’s kind of an untapped reservoir.” The direct tie between soil and human drugs emphasizes the importance of maintaining and enhancing the health of our soil.
Soil that is healthy also produces nutritious food. A good balance of organic matter in healthy soil will produce more nutritious crops – like wheat – for people to eat in bread, breakfast cereal, pasta and other food staples. Healthy soil even indirectly influences meat, for example, by producing high quality forages for cattle to graze.
As stewards of the soil both in the country and in town we need to foster healthy soil. This can be achieved by applying the fertilizers, herbicides and other amendments at the proper rates. Increase the organic matter in the soil by planting high residue crops such as wheat or corn, adding compost or allowing vegetation to decompose on site. Avoid compaction by planting cover crops or species that aid in improving soil tilth which will in turn improve water infiltration.
So each time you do something to the soil think how that action may benefit or harm your soils health. Since I have spent this whole column on soil I have a trivia question for you, do you know what the state soil is? Look for the answer next week.