What are some features of good soil? Anyfarmer will tell you that a good soil:•feels soft and crumbles easily•drains well and warms up quickly inthe spring•does not crust after planting•soaks up heavy rains with little runoff•stores moisture for drought periods•has few clods and no hardpan•resists erosion and nutrient loss•supports high populations of soilorganisms•has a rich, earthy smell•does not require increasing inputs forhigh yields•produces healthy, high-quality crops(1)All these criteria indicate a soil that functionseffectively today and will continue to producecrops long into the future. These characteris-tics can be created through management prac-tices that optimize the processes found in na-tive soils.How does soil in its native condition function?How do forests and native grasslands produceplants and animals in the complete absence offertilizer and tillage? Understanding the prin-ciples by which native soils function can helpfarmers develop and maintain productive andprofitable soil both now and for future genera-tions. The soil, the environment, and farm con-dition benefit when the soil’s natural produc-tivity is managed in a sustainable way. Reli-ance on purchased inputs declines year by year,while land value and income potential increase.Some of the things we spend money on can bedone by the natural process itself for little ornothing. Good soil management produces cropsand animals that are healthier, less susceptibleto disease, and more productive. To understandthis better, let’s start with the basics.
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Soils are made up of four basic components:minerals, air, water, and organic matter. Inmost soils, minerals represent around 45% ofthe total volume, water and air about 25% each,and organic matter from 2% to 5%. The min-eral portion consists of three distinct particlesizes classified as sand, silt, or clay. Sand is thelargest particle that can be considered soil.Sand is largely the mineral quartz, though otherminerals are also present. Quartz contains noplant nutrients, and sand cannot hold nutri-ents—they leach out easily with rainfall. Siltparticles are much smaller than sand, but likesand, silt is mostly quartz. The smallest of allthe soil particles is clay. Clays are quite differ-ent from sand or silt, and most types of claycontain appreciable amounts of plant nutrients.Clay has a large surface area resulting from theplate-like shape of the individual particles.Sandy soils are less productive than silts, whilesoils containing clay are the most productive anduse fertilizers most effectively.
refers to the relative proportions ofsand, silt, and clay. A loam soil contains thesethree types of soil particles in roughly equal pro-portions. A sandy loam is a mixture containinga larger amount of sand and a smaller amountof clay, while a clay loam contains a largeramount of clay and a smaller amount of sand.These and other texture designations are listedinTable 1.Another soil characteristic—soil structure—isdistinct from soil texture.
refers to theclumping together or “aggregation” of sand, silt,and clay particles into larger secondary clusters.Sustainable: capable of being maintained atlength without interruption, weakening, orlosing in power or quality.
I.Characteristics of S