Soil is a complex combination of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and organisms, which is vital to life on Earth. It is the basis of plant life and, therefore, plays a key role in securing crop production. This ability of soil to sustain proper plant growth by providing the required amount of nutrients and favorable chemical, biological, and physical conditions for plant development is known as soil fertility.
What is fertile soil? In a broad sense, it refers to one that is rich in macro- and micronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, boron, iron, copper, etc.). But in fact, it is more complicated. To ensure proper plant nutrition, the soil should possess certain properties, such as adequate structure, water-holding capacity, drainage, pH and salinity level, and cation and anion exchange capacity to name a few. This can be achieved with proper soil management. By putting the right practices into action, farmers can improve soil characteristics and produce high yields even on soils considered naturally infertile. And the other way around: intensive cultivation, tillage, and fertilizer application often result in soil depletion and poor crop yields. This is why switching to smart and sustainable soil management is the most optimal way to avoid the causes and consequences of decreased soil fertility in your fields.
Why soil fertility is important
Soil feeds plants, the primary element of the food cycle that ultimately feeds us. It is the richness of the soil that determines the quantity and quality of crops a farmer can produce. So the main function of fertile soil is the provision of food, which is directly linked to food security.
Moreover, soils rich in nutrients allow us to grow healthy crops containing all the essential nutrients humans need, thus contributing to our health and well-being.
Soil richness also has a major impact on the environment. Crop growers who don’t know how to improve soil fertility sustainably rely on the heavy use of fertilizers to make up for the lack of nutrients. Poor soil management practices inevitably lead to soil, water, and air pollution and affect biodiversity. Taking care of soils and adopting a sustainable approach to managing land fertility is the right track to reduced environmental pollution, more efficient water availability regulation, a more diverse biotic community, increased vegetation, and reduced carbon footprint.
Types of soil fertility
It is important to distinguish between natural (inherent) and acquired fertility of the soil. A naturally fertile soil contains a certain extent and quantity of nutrients by nature. Traditionally, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are considered the most essential macro elements for crop growth. A soil richness that has resulted from chemical fertilizer or manure application, drainage, irrigation, and other agricultural practices is known as acquired fertility. For instance, sandy soil with low organic matter considered naturally infertile may as well produce high crop yields, provided that more intensive watering, fertilization, and soil enrichment with organic matter are in place.
Both types have limitations, so it takes an integrated soil management approach to preserve the richness of the soil and improve it wherever possible.
Key drivers of soil fertility
There is a multitude of factors, directly and indirectly affecting soil richness, that every crop grower should know. Let’s focus on the direct ones that have the most effect.
Organic matter and humus content. The remains of animals, plants, and microorganisms that return to the soil undergo decomposition and break down into chemical elements, being the main source of nutrients for plants. It’s what makes the soil fertile. Humus is this nutrient-rich decomposed organic material, and the higher the humus content, the more fertile the soil is.
Topsoil depth. The uppermost and most humus-rich portion of the soil, topsoil, has to be deep enough for plants to establish roots and take in the nutrients to survive. According to the UN’s FAO, 95% of the world’s food is grown on topsoil, which disappears at an alarming rate, causing a major depletion of fertile lands.
Soil structure and texture. The availability of aggregation and pores in the soil (structure) and the proportion of clay vs sand particles (texture) altogether determine the movement of water, oxygen, and nutrients in the soil and their availability to plants, thus affecting soil fertility. Besides, the soil with a strong structure provides enough space for roots to penetrate.
Water supply. Plants uptake nutrients dissolved in water, meaning that proper soil moisture levels are required to maintain soil fertility. To supply the right amount of water, farmers should take into account the soil’s water-holding capacity: for example, sandy soils have to be irrigated more frequently but with less water, while clay soils that can store water for a long can be watered less frequently.
The pH. The soil pH determines the availability of nutrients to plants that grow in it. Some plants thrive in more acidic soils (with a pH less than 7), while others need alkaline soils to grow (with a pH greater than 7). As a rule, the deviation from a normal pH level suppresses the beneficial bacteria, challenges root growth, and reduces the plant’s ability to uptake useful substances.
EOSDA Crop Monitoring for soil fertility
Today, farmers have the opportunity to develop an integrated approach to managing soils by combining the benefits of the latest technologies and traditional knowledge. Crop producers should consider the impact of their cultivation strategies on future soil fertility and the environment, opting for sustainable and informed farming methods offered by precision agriculture.
And EOSDA Crop Monitoring can make it easier. This digital platform was created by EOS Data Analytics, a company well-known for its satellite-driven analytics solutions for various industries, including agriculture. Leveraging GIS and remote sensing technologies, EOSDA Crop Monitoring provides critical information and insights into the state of crops and soils to agribusinesses. With its help, agricultural producers, consultants, and agronomists can develop the most efficient strategy of how to make soil fertile, relying on sustainable precision farming practices.
Among the multiple features offered by the platform, there are several that can be most useful in soil fertility analysis. Productivity maps provide an overall estimation of field productivity over several years based on NDVI values, highlighting the low-productive areas. Farmers can run further on-site analyses to establish the reason and take appropriate action. Crop rotation is an effective technique for keeping soils fertile, and EOSDA Crop Monitoring is a handy tool for its management. The platform allows keeping records of crop types grown in each field, combining data on crop rotation and vegetation intensity to assess soil fertility, and looking back into previous seasons with historical satellite data to choose which crop to grow next.
EOSDA Crop Monitoring represents one of the latest satellite data-based innovations in agrisector, designed to make farming as cost-, time-, and resource-efficient as possible. By implementing it in their daily farm work, crop growers can use resources more rationally, significantly lower production costs, and maximize their crop yields.
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