Being a new farmer you need to know the basics about soil management. I had to do a lot of research about soil to write this post. I will link to a few sites that I found very helpful while doing my research.
The idea behind this post is to summarize the information I found, and present it to you in easy-to-understand way. Essentially, try to give you what you need to know.
As I mentioned before, knowing the basics about soil is an essential part about being a farmer.
Determine your soil type
Determining your soil type is probably one of the most important things you could do as a new farmer. What this allows you to do is decide what type of crop you can use on your farm. As we know, some crops do better than other crops. We can figure out which crops will do better, if we find out what soil type we have.
So what are the soil types? I touched on this a bit in a definitive guide to buying farmland, however, I didn’t go into detail.
There are three basic types of soil:
Clay holds the most water. If you’re trying to farm, you probably don’t want a lot of Clay on your property. Some crops need a bit of Clay, but it’s not your ideal choice.
Loam is the type of soil that you want as a farmer. It provides all the necessary elements to grow the best crop possible.
In many cases, you will have a combination of loam and sand or loam and Clay.
Sand doesn’t hold any water. If you are trying to grow something in your field, you will likely be less successful than someone who has a loam field.
As I mentioned before, these are just the basic types. Many people will talk about different types, but I didn’t want to get into all that. I am trying to keep it straight forward, so it is easy to understand. I know I got bogged down when I was doing research, so I am trying to prevent that here.
Soil testing is essential. It is important to get your land tested because this tells you what nutrients you are lacking in your soil. If you are lacking a certain nutrient, your crop may not do as well as you would like.
You should get your soil tested by your local expert. Having a local expert test your soil, will give you the most insightful information.
So what are you testing for? Soil nutrients of course.
The soil nutrients they are looking for are:
- Plant-available phosphorus (sodium bicarbonate extractable)
- Magnesium (ammonium acetate extractable)
- Manganese and zinc (index of soil pH and extractable element)
- Lime requirement (SMP buffer pH)
- Nitrate nitrogen (mostly for corn and requires a special test)
After finding out what your soil has or doesn’t have, you can decide what you need to put back into your soil. You need to have a balance of all these nutrients. The balance of these nutrients is what ensures that your crop grows. Some crops use more of one nutrient, so you need to know what to put back into your soil to get the best crop.
OMAFRA suggests that you get your fields tested once every two to three years, but depending on your soil type, and what you are growing, once a year is also possible.
What’s in your soil
What do you want in your soil
What you want in your soil is largely dependent upon which crop you grow. For example, if you grow canola you might want to focus on the amount of sulphur you have in your soil. Also, phosphate and potash are important for canola.
As you can see, it really depends on what crop you have planted. Different crops have different needs. So be sure to check what crop needs what. I found this great reference table from OMAFRA which shows you what each crop needs.
What you don’t want in your soil
You don’t want insects in your soil although some insects are actually good for your plants. Sometimes the best way to manage insects is by rotating your crops. What this does is prevent the insects from becoming localized in one particular field.
Cover crops and why you need them
What is a cover crop?
A cover crop is basically a crop that you plant when your primary crop is off the field. We do not harvest cover crops. They just sit there in the ground and keep nutrients.
What are the benefits of cover crops?
- It improves the quality of the soil.
- It helps prevent erosion.
- It improves fertility of the field.
- It helps to suppress weeds.
- It helps to control insects.
Why you need a cover crop?
The reason why you want to use a cover crop is that it improves your soil. Let’s think about this. If we improve our soil, we will improve our crops. Also, if we use cover crops, you will cut the amount of herbicide and insecticide you would need to use on your field. Is that going to be 100% of the time? The chances are probably not, but it will decrease the total amount you need.
What type of cover crops are there?
There are many different types of cover crops. Each cover crop provides its own benefits. Therefore, you will need to make a choice based on what your soil needs. Again, this goes back to getting your soil tested. If you get your soil tested, you will know what cover crop to use.
Here are a few types of cover crops:
Why new farmers need about soil management
New farmers and experience farmers need to know how to maintain soil because it is essential to help prevent erosion. Furthermore, it also helps us keep the soil healthy for upcoming generations.
If we don’t keep the soil healthy, we won’t be able to provide food for the world. That is why it is so important to maintain your soil and help each other.
It is particularly important as a new farmer to understand your soil because it really helps to give you the information you need to make the choices you need to make.
How healthy is your soil?
- Soil Fertility and Nutrient Use: Soil Testing
- Accredited Soil Testing Laboratories in Ontario
- Crops OMAFRA
- Cover Crop Fundementals
- USDA Soil Health ( I know it isn’t Canadian, but it is set up nicely)
- Soil and Land prep
- Soil Sampling and Analysis For Managing Crop Nutrients
- Soil Management
Further reading for new farmers
- How to get money to start a farm
- How to buy farmland
- What is farm management?
- How to write a business plan
- Soil management for new farmers
- How to select a piece of used equipment with these four essential tips
- How to choose what type of farm to start