Organic Matter in Soil #1069 (Air Date 9-30-18)

by: AgPhD

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organic matter is one of the most important things you can take a look at on your soil test there are many reasons why organic matter is important one that I'll talk about to start with is something you may not think about all the time and that is organic matter mineral eise's it releases nutrients for future crops each year on our farm I take a look at hey how much organic matter do I have and how much nitrogen am I going to get out of that twenty to thirty pounds per percent of organic matter so if I a five percent organic matter that's a hundred to a hundred and fifty pounds of free nitrogen I'm also gonna get roughly four to seven pounds of phosphorus out for every one percent of organic matter and two to three pounds of sulfur alright Brian that's great looking at the dollars and cents it doesn't surprise me that's typically where a brand likes to go but I want to start here when we think about organic matter a lot of times I've got a corn field behind me here and and farmers will say okay I cut my corn I've got all this residue on top of the ground I've all this organic material that's gonna help me build my soil and you're kind of right in that a corn field can really have potential to help you build organic matter up in your soil but it's not so much from the above-ground residue the thing you have to remember with corn plants and most plants out there they're gonna have about as much plant material below the ground as they do above the ground all that material below the ground if you leave it undisturbed it's going to break down naturally and a lot of that root system as it decays is going to become organic matter the organic material on top of the ground sure some of that could potentially become organic matter it can get pulled down in the soil with earthworms and in other ways and yeah maybe 1% of that above ground stuff is going to become organic matter it's still important but when I talk about building up organic matter in our soil a lot of times we're dealing with below ground residue so again organic matter is decayed plant or animal residue that's really what it is and that organic matter that's what you're going to read that the number that we're looking for on that soil test now when we talk about benefits so I already mentioned that hey this is great when I can get some nutrients out of that over time and let me just put this in very simple terms I find that if I have lots of organic matter out there my ground is almost squishy it's almost like a sponge okay that's great because now I can get more water infiltration I have more oxygen moving in that soil I have more soil life out there those are all really big benefits to organic matter Brian talked about water a little bit let's talk about the water holding capacity of soil now there can certainly be differences in soil clay versus sand and and different cation exchange capacity and so forth but the part that organic matter place in this is really big as you build organic matter levels in your soil each one percent increase in organic matter means you can hold four percent more water and when you think about it that's a huge deal if you can build five percent more organic matter in your soil theoretically you could hold 20 percent more water which would be a big big deal for crop production Darren mentioned if the organic matter increases you have more water holding capacity when the organic matter increases yeah more nutrient holding capacity too so you can see that hey having organic matter that's a really good thing how am I going to build that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is a lot of people think they can do tillage and build organic matter but that's not correct if you're doing lots of tillage what you're doing is you're introducing more oxygen into that ground and as I've had it explained to me by soil scientists they say it's kind of like adding fuel to the fire you burn up the organic matter much faster so you well actually in many cases burn it faster than you're building it and tillage is the number one reason why in the last 100 years in the United States you've seen organic matter levels continue to decrease so the first step if you want more organic matter is you want to reduce tillage we would also strongly encourage you to plant crops with lots of roots corn has five times the root mass of soybeans roughly okay so corn would be a better choice than soybeans in terms of total amount of roots use manure or compost use some cover crops use biologicals those are the five things that we typically are talking about when we want to look at Bill organic matter you know this doesn't happen overnight it's not that you're going to go from 1% organic matter to 4 percent overnight and in certain climates it's going to be more difficult to build up organic matter because you may have a longer or shorter growing season because you may have sand rather than a heavier soil that kind of thing it can be a challenge building organic matter it's something at our firm that we've set really our whole farming career this is one of the objectives that we're going to have is building organic matter over time we've been able to do that in the last 20 or 30 years we've grown our organic matter levels significantly we've seen this in our state with really a change in tillage operations where more farmers have gone to no-till or reduced tillage operations we've seen in general and our whole state the organic matter levels going up so don't believe well you're never going to make a difference and it's gonna take forever to do this you can do it in your lifetime no doubt one of the things we would encourage you to do is go right to your fence line or some other area that's never been tilled on your farm do a soil test there find out the organic matter level and that tells you at least what you should be at and you can build it even beyond that level building organic matter levels in soil is generally a pretty good thing another thing that farmers would agree is a great thing is controlling our weight of the week we'll show you how to do it later in the show

More from this creator:
Darren and Brian Hefty break down why organic matter is essential to plant health, and ways you can grow organic matter on your farm.
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