#Monsoon2020 Pre Sowing activities on addressing Soil Fertility and Soil Health Management

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

As #Monsoon 2020 is approaching very quickly, let’s just check our factsheet on how to design your farm so that we make the maximum use of the rainwater falling on our land. We need to get ready and gear for the #Monsoon2020. We also had discussions at length with Indian Soil Biologist and Ecologist Sultan Ahmed Ismail and Noted Soil Activist Soil Vasu to understand the importance of Soil preparation activities premonsoon and assessment of soil quality and organic matter. Both of them reiterated on the quality of soil and soil microbes and reminded that soil health management in India needs to be of prime importance to farmers. The farmers need to consider that the soil has life. Designing the land is of prime importance in setting up farm. The Direction of rainfall marking also needs to be done. Gradient marking is of prime importance too. If the land is sloppy then contour bunds are a must. We must not put a straight bund. If the land is flattened then we need to conserve water by making 10 m by 10 m square bunds.

We need to understand the quality of the soil much before you start any operations. If you are sure of the quality of your soil and have done amendments then you are ready to welcome your monsoons and need not get worried about leaching or erosion of the nutrients nor the topsoil. To analyse the soil we need to touch and feel the quality of soil. We can also take some soil from the farm and add water and place it in a jar for some time so that we could observe the layers of soil. When it is totally settled we can see the clay silt and organic matter of the soil. The Organic matter will be floating   and on the basis of the organic matter we can analyse whether it is lacking or low or high in organic matter.

Another method is to hold the soil in your hand and to hold the soil together and make it a ball and rolls into a flat circle then it has more clay. If it makes itself into a stick shape then doesn’t break then more clay and less organic matter and if it breaks at certain parts then it’s said to be perfect.

We hope already during the fallow season, you must have grown cover crops and it must have got incorporated into the soil at the time of the first summer showers. Once a cover crop is grown the technique is to mow down the crop and when it is dry it is tilled into the soil. There are some farmers who alternatively in rainfed areas favour a no till method in which the residue form the cover crop is left on the soil as mulch layer. At certain places in Karnataka they also broadcast 25 types of seeds into the soil at the same time after the ploughing says noted soil activist Soil Vasu. After the first showers they get to see what kind of seeds did well in the soil and they decide what to plant accordingly to which seeds have come up well.

Conventional tillage if done deep will disturb the earthworms so there should be somewhere in between a conventional and no till method to be adopted for shallowly cultivating the soil in preparation for planting of crops. This also might depend on the geography and particular soil type and condition of the soil. What needs to be taken care is to minimize the disturbance of the soil while preventing weeds from surfacing. The first ploughing and the subsequent second ploughing allows the drainage channels to be formed so that the rain fall seeps down to the ground level. If we create proper aeration in soils and soil starts breathing   and creates thousands of pores, the water will get retained in the pore during dry spells. There are umpteen number of soil microbes present in the soil and this aeration will benefit them too by creating cooler spaces for them to survive. We also need to add organic matter above soil to cover the microbes from sun. Heat is an enemy for the microbes and cool atmosphere needs to be maintained in soils.

If we have multiple crops at varying root lengths, varying in different depths the mineral content uptake will also be different. The mineral content in subsoil will be taken up plants having greater root length and brought to the next upper level and so that the smaller plants having smaller roots will also be able to uptake those minerals thus creating a conducive environment of give and take inside the soils.

The decline of organic matter, biomass, decrease in microbial activity, increase in erodibility, acidity and salinity leads to deterioration of soil quality/health. We need to maintain and improve soil health because it is critical to enhance the sustainability of food production systems.

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