Optimal soil structure and health is made by earthworms, not tillage

June 4, 2015

 

"An interconnected network of pores associated with loosely packed, crumbly, highly aggregated soils allows rapid infiltration and easy movement of both water and air through the soil and provides habitat for soil organisms. Chemical and physical factors play a prominent role in small aggregate formation in clay soils, while biological processes drive development of large aggregates and macropores. Earthworms, for instance, produce both new aggregates and pores. Their binding agents are responsible for the formation of water-stable, macro-aggregates, and their burrowing creates continuous pores linking surface to subsurface soil layers. As they feed, earthworms also speed plant residue decomposition, nutrient cycling, and redistribution of nutrients in the soil profile..."When tillage loosens the soil, it leaves soil particles exposed to the forces of wind and water. Transported by wind and water, detached soil particles settle into pores, causing surface sealing, compaction and reduced infiltration. When this happens less water is available to plants and runoff and erosion increases. By contrast, soils that are not tilled and are covered with diverse, high residue crops throughout the year have better soil structure, are highly aggregated, with high levels of organic matter and microorganism activity, high water holding capacity, high infiltration rates, and little compaction."Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Healthy Soils Are: Well Structured,” 1, accessed July 30, 2014, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1193171.pdf.

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