The Means to Achieving the Above Goals 1. Improving and maintaining physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil involves a suite of interrelated practices. Because these properties are so deeply and complexly interconnected, soil health management requires an overall approach focused on how the soil and plants are managed, rather than a product-based approach that focuses primarily on delivering chemical “solutions” to nutrient and pest “problems.” a)
Sustainable agricultural practices used to improve and sustain soil physical and biological properties i. Maintain or increase soil organic matter (SOM) levels through inputs of compost and cover cropping (see Unit 1.6, Selecting and Using Cover Crops and Unit 1.7, Making and Using Compost). SOM has a high capacity to hold and release inorganic nitrogen and other essential nutrients to plants.
Organic matter inputs enhance the stability of soil aggregates, increase the porosity and permeability to water and air, and improve the water-holding capacity of soils. The primary constituents of SOM are organic compounds rich in carbon.
Building or maintaining the level of soil carbon provides the energy and nutrients necessary to stimulate the soil microorganisms responsible for decomposition and the formation of soil aggregates and more desirable soil structure.
See also: www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/soil-carbonstorage-84223790. ii. Provide a balanced nutrient supply for the crop, also through compost and cover cropping. Use in-season supplemental fertilizers (when suggested as necessary by soil test results, plant growth observations, or plant tissue testing) to prevent or address plant nutrient deficiencies. See the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual for examples: soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu/.