- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Healthy soil does much more than hold plants upright on the surface of the earth. It is a mix of mineral bits and old plant particles teeming with microbes to form a mysterious and complex web of life scientists are just beginning to understand.
While scientists use high technology to study heathy soil – painstakingly counting soil worms and bugs, sequencing the DNA of soil bacteria, for example – some farmers know intuitively whether the soil is healthy just by walking on it.
Scott Park is a first-generation Meridian, Calif., farmer. “When I step on a field and it feels like a road, something is wrong,” he said. “If it feels like a marshmallow or sponge, that's good.”
Farmers who have managed their soil with cover crops and conservation tillage are in better shape to weather El Niño this winter than those who have used traditional soil management methods, says Jeffrey Mitchell of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
“The soil-water interaction under various soil management practices will be quite clear if we do get the increased rainfall this winter that has been forecast,” Mitchell said. “Soil high in organic matter and covered by plant residue will allow increased water infiltration and storage, less water runoff and, on a large scale, increased groundwater...