Soil conservation and organic farming

Today, wrong agricultural practices such as monocropping, intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are harming the soil. There are various methods and ways of conserving the soil and its properties that include organic fertilizers, organic pesticides, green manuring etc.

Management of soil

Soil is a sustainable resource. Modern farming techniques are designed to get maximum profits. Soil management refers to process which attempts to adjust soil factors to maximize crop production at the lowest costs.

Basic objectives of soil conservation

  • Protecting the land surface from the impact of rainfall
    We must all have seen the impact of the excessive rainfall on the land. it makes it swampy, marshy creating gullies and ravines all over the surface. It renders the land and the soil unfit for use.

  • Increasing infiltration of rain water
    Groundwater today is falling below the level we expected. Also, if water is allowed to stay in the soil for a longer time, it washes away all the nutrients from the soil resulting in the death of the plant.

  • Decreasing the volume and velocity of overland flow
    When there is no proper drainage system, water of the rain tends to flow in channels to the sea and oceans carrying with them all the essential and vital nutrients. A wise farmer shall try to use the same water by blocking it and then storing in proper containers.

  • Reducing soil erosion
    Soil erosion can be reduced by modifying physical and chemical properties of the soil.

    Soil conservation measures

    Alternative cropping

    It refers to the technique of growing a crop for few seasons and then replacing it with another crop. Continuous growing of one crop such as tobacco cause more erosion as the crop uses the same minerals again and again. A good rotation helps in maintaining soil fertility. Good rotation crops are small grams and legumes. Legumes trap the nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to the plants in the soil.
    Another types of alternating cropping consists of a series of rows of one crop such as corn and soyabean in a wide strip. The next strip is then planted with a crop conserving soil such as grass or grass-legume mixture.

    Judicious use of inputs

    There must be a balance in the use of fertilizers, water and pesticides. The use of too much water leaches the soil and increases salinity.
    Traditional agricultural practices are now believed to be much more beneficial than the modern farming practices. It is known that the produce was much less but at least, they did not harm the environment. The earlier farmers did not play with the health of the people just for earning certain amount of profits.
    Good soil management includes the following:
  • Judicious use of inputs like water, fertilizers and pesticides. I say, it must be judicious because many a times, a farmer use more of pesticides than fertilizers. Yes, it a harsh reality that we have to face every time we eat our vegetables.

  • It is very essential to maintain a good structure of the soil so that the soil do not lose its properties. Oops!, natural properties. It is a fact that today's soil is much more acidic in nature than it has ever been.

  • Careful fertilization and irrigation through testing of the properties of the soil. We must use the fertilizers only if they are compatible with the plant. I know we generally use the "compatible" word with our computers but we must know that not all kinds of fertilizers go with every type of plant. Plants are also choosy like us. They shall not take in what is not good for them. Hence, we must respect their choice as they are life giver.

  • Proper use of marginal land which is probably not suitable for cropping. Land along the roads and parks can be used for the purpose. Even, we must have seen large tracts of land lying idle across the railway tracks.

  • Economic management for sustainable agriculture which is for future plantations and not only for present crops.

  • Conserving the soil with grass and trees to protect it from rain and wind.

  • Conservation of natural wetlands to preserve natural drainage patterns and wildlife.

    Green manuring
    In agriculture, green manure is a type of cover crop grown primarily to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. green manure is not something that the farmer shall keep as a valuable item. It is kept only for a fixed time period after which the plants enacting as green manure is ploughed back into the soil.Yes, it kills that plant but is beneficial for the other important crops that feeds our stomach.
    Leguminous plants such as clover and pulses fix the atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates and phosphates so that plants can use them without any difficulty or without much wastage of energy. Green manures increase the percentage of organic matter in the soil, thereby improving the capacity of the soil to retain water and make it more porous so that it can afford more of oxygen for the plants to survive.

    Advantages of green manuring
  • Improves soil fertility.

  • Supplies a part of nutrient requirement of crops.

  • Adds fresh matter to the soil largely for supplying the nutrient contained in the biomass.

  • This can be either grown in sites and incorporated or grown elsewhere and brought in for incorporation in th field to be manured.

  • Leguminous plants are largely used as green manure due to their nitrogen fixing capacity. Some non-leguminous plants are also used for features like local availability, drought tolerance, quick growth and adaptation to adverse conditions.

    Making compost

    Compost is a biological process of conservation of organic matter of refuse to a usable stable material. A good mix of of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes.
    "Greens" are the fresh plant materials such as green weeds form the garden, fruits and vegetables scraps, green leaves and tea bags etc. The greens have more nitrogen in them.
    "Browns" are dry and dead weeds and plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, wood chips and sawdust. As such, these items are the source of energy for the compost microbes. Because they tend to dry, they need to be moistened. They helps out with the aeration and the amount of water in the pile.

    How to make compost
  • Buy or build a rodent resistant bin.

  • Locate the bin on well drained, level soil.

  • Use coarse organic material such as straw or prunings on the bottom upto few inches.

  • Chop material into few pieces.

  • Add green nitrogen rich material and brown carbon rich material.

  • Add food waste in the center and cover.

    Farm yard manure

    From the beginning of agriculture, the utilization of farm wastes, rotten by means of urine and dung of animals has been the principle method of replenishing soil losses. Under the covered yard system, the dung and litter are left under the animals until a layer is produced. Then the dung is carted out in a heap to ripen.
    The ideal method of storage of organic manure is under anaerobic conditions at a temperature of 26 degrees. The manure heap gradually loses nitrogen and the best hope of improvement lies in storing the manure in water.
    The final product is not fine powder. It is a partially rotted material, which cannot get into pore spaces of the soil until further decay takes place.

    Plantations to check soil erosion

    Crops like grass, groundnut etc. act as excellent soil covers against erosion of soil. These crops provide a cushioning effect against the rain drops. Close growing crops also help in controlling soil erosion by providing root channels through which water moves downward.
    Gully control is extremely important for preventing complete destruction of cultivated lands and grasslands. This can be done in two ways:
  • In small gullies, quick growing plants like barley, wheat and oats can be planted.

  • In deeper gullies, small dams can be built to collect silt and gradually fill in the water channels that are eroding the land.

    Pesticides and herbicides

    A pesticide is a chemical or biological agent that kills pests.
    Pesticides also have an effect on man. Chemical pesticides are non-biodegradable and their concentration in soil goes on increasing with successive application. this process is also called Bio magnification.

    Harmful effects of pesticides
  • Some individuals of the pest survive even after the pesticide spray. The survivors give rise to highly resistant generations.

  • Many insecticides are broad spectrum pesticides which not only kill the target species but also several non-target species.

  • Many of the pesticides are non-biodegradable and keep on accumulating in the food chain, a process called bio-magnification. Since human beings occupy a high tropic level in the food chain, they get the pesticides in the magnified or enlarged doses that is very harmful.

    Alternatives to chemical pesticides

  • Using degradable insecticides like organic phosphates. These are derived from the oil and fats of animals and dead plants. These are actually very expensive and only rich farmers can support these types of pesticides.

  • Using short-lived chemical pesticides which means that we must use only those pesticides that can degrade easily in the soil and does not stay in the ecosystem for long.

  • Using biological control methods instead of pesticides. That is, predators like body beetles and lace wings can be used against agricultural pests and insects. Beetles can be used to control weed. These pests do not eat the crops but at the same time, hunts for those insects that are delicious for them. Thus, they provide great benefit to the farmers. However, it is not possible for a farmer to capture them and leave them into the fields. It is only possible in the areas that naturally habitats these insects.

    Advantages of bio-pesticides

  • Protect future generations: We receive four times the exposure of at least eight widely used cancer causing pesticides in food. It was even published that rat kill drugs are used to kill pests in fields.

  • Prevent soil generation: Soil is the foundation of farming. But chemically fertilized soil is used excessively for getting extra yield that causes soil erosion.

  • Protect water quality: Water makes up the two third of our body mass and covers three fourth of the planet. Chemical pesticides contaminate the ground water which is the primary source of our drinking.

  • Promote biodiversity: Mono-cropping is th practice of planting large plots of land with same crop year after year. While this approach tripled farm production, it has left the soil lacking in several important nutrients. To replace this problem, chemicals are used that only compounds this problem.

  • Healthy food: Organic farming starts with an abundance of nutrients in the soil, which leads to the nourishment of plants and ultimately goes and adds flavor to the food.

  • Environment friendly: Organic inputs are biodegradable, residual free, easily available and cost effective.

    Names of some organic pesticides

  • Bio-neem

  • Bio-2001
    These are very good pesticides. Unlike the chemical pesticides, they do not stick to the skin of the fruits and vegetables. Thus, it will reduce our effort to wash them intensively. Even if we eat them without washing, there shall be no danger to our body. In a way, it shall save water also. Well, this is a very remote benefit that I thought of.


    Biofertilizer is a cent percent natural and organic fertilizer that helps to provide and keep in the soil all the nutrients and microbes required for the benefits of the plants. Organic fertilizers differ from chemical fertilizers in the way that the former feed our plants while adding to organic material in the soil.

    Sources of biofertilizers

    The main source of bio-fertilizers are bacteria, fungi. Plants have a number of relationship with fungi and bacteria which they utilize for the nutrients.

  • Mycorrhizae: It is basically a type of bacteria that helps the plants in its growth and development. There is a symbiotic relationship that exists. Symbiotic relationship signifies the relationship of mutual help. While the microbe is alive, they derive nutrients from the plants and help them in fixation of nitrogen which help the plants to form proteins.

    Legume-rhizobium relationships Leguminous plants require high quantities of nutrients as compared to other plants. Nitrogen is an inert gas and its intake is impossible in the sense that one cannot use nitrogen unless it is changed into some other usable compound. That usable compound may be nitrates or ammonia.
    One may find these two names anywhere on the internet.There are much more examples of bio-fertilizers which I think will be inappropriate if I mention them here as it shall definitely enhance the quality of my resource but at the same time deduce its reliability.

    Advantages of bio-fertilizers

  • Improving physical structure of the soil.

  • Improving biological properties of the soil.

  • Improving reactions with chemical fertilizers: bio-fertilizers not only releases phosphate and potash in a manner that is easily absorbed by plants, but interacts positively with inorganic fertilizers as well. Their interaction allows better and greater utilization of nutrients.

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