ATTRA is the national sustainable agriculture information service, operated by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through a grant from the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, U.S.Department of Agriculture. These organizations do not recommend or endorse products,companies, or individuals. NCAT has offices in Fayetteville, Arkansas (P.O. Box 3657, Fayetteville,AR 72702), Butte, Montana, and Davis, California.
With severe drought an all-too-common occur-rence, some farmers turn to irrigation for a solu-tion. Irrigation may not be feasible or even de-sirable. Fortunately, there are management op-tions that can increase the soil’s ability to storewater for plant use. Soil can be managed in waysthat reduce the need for supplemental wateringand increase the sustainability of the farm. Thispublication details some of the strategies fordrought-proofing soil and the concepts that sup-port them. Any worthwhile strategy for droughtmanagement optimizes the following factors:•Capture of a high percentage of rainfall (in-filtration)•Maximum storage of water in the soil for lateruse (water holding capacity)•Efficient recovery of stored water (plant root-ing)Several important soil factors affect water man-agement—including soil texture, aggregation,organic matter content, and surface groundcover.
refers to the proportions of sand, silt, andclay present in a given soil. A
, forexample, has much more sand and much lessclay than does a
soil is a morebalanced blend of sand, silt, and clay. Most soilsare some type of loam. Texture is an innate char-acteristic of the soil type. Unlike the other fac-tors discussed here—aggregation, organic mat-ter, and ground cover—texture cannot bechanged through agronomic practice. By know-ing the innate texture of the soil, however, thefarmer can select and adjust practices that opti-mize moisture management.Agronomy Technical Note
Table of Contents
Abstract: To minimize the impact of drought, soil needs to capture the rainwater that falls on it, store as much of thatwater as possible for future plant use, and allow for plant roots to penetrate and proliferate. These conditions can beachieved through management of organic matter, which can increase water storage by 16,000 gallons per acre foot for each 1% organic matter. Organic matter also increases the soil’s ability to take in water during rainfall events, assuringthat more water will be stored. Ground cover also increases the water infiltration rate while lowering soil water evaporation.When all these factors are taken together the the severity of drought and the need for irrigation are greatly reduced.