Improving soil health (SH) can provide a variety of benefits including improved water infiltration, increased water holding capacity, and increased nutrient availability. However, it can be challenging to quantify these benefits in the field.
With funding from Ohio Soybean Checkoff, the eFields program is continuing an effort to help better understand how management practices influence soil health and ultimately crop yields. OSU Extension has worked to identify a few soil tests that can provide helpful indicators of improved soil health. Though several health tests exist, we focused on tests that are simple, economical, and repeatable. We are looking for farmers interested in soil health and who want to participate in a statewide field survey collecting soil health data from fields under various management practices, specifically conventional tillage, no-till, manure application, and cover cropping. The results from this effort will be used to guide recommendations for improving soil health on Ohio farms.
Based on the last few years of soil health survey data in Ohio we have seen a trend towards increased corn and soybean yields as the soil health indicators for respiration and POXC increase. As expected, soil properties varied greatly across all soil samples collected so far. Fifty percent of the soils had optimal pH values (6.0 – 6.8) and most soils had sufficient Mehilch-3 phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) values. In general, soil test levels were in optimal ranges for grain crops in Ohio (Culman et al., 2020). Soil organic matter ranged from 0.1 to 9.8% for these soils, with 50% of the values falling below and 50% of the values falling above 2.2% (median value). Soil health measures that reflect biologically active organic matter values varied greatly, with median values of 496 mg/kg for POXC, 46.5 mg/kg for respiration and 4.4 g/kg for soil protein. To learn more about previous soil health work visit: go.osu.edu/efields
If you are interested in learning more about participating in eFields trials focused on soil health, reach out to your local Extension educator or email email@example.com. For more information about the soil health indicators and how to use them, visit: go.osu.edu/MeasureSH.