WW-07399 2000Soil Management main page
Making a Soil Management Plan
Now that you have reviewed how soil works, and how it is working on your farm, it may be time to begin clarifying which soil management changes would be beneficial on your farm. Whole farm planning includes four steps which can be modified for use in developing a soil management plan:
1. Setting goals
What do you want to get from your soil? On page one is a list of services or functions that soil performs. Look at these for ideas as you write your soil management goals. Think about them in relation to the overall goals you have for your farm.
2. Inventory and assessment
Inventorying and assessing soil
What kind of soil do you have? What problems are of greatest concern? To begin answering these questions, look at the problem areas you identified in "Your Farm #3, 4, 5, and 6." Also consider areas where erosion or loss of organic matter is a problem, where crop performance is consistently poor, or where crops are highly susceptible to less-than-ideal weather conditions. You will probably find that many of the areas on each list will overlap.
Which areas are costing you the most money, causing the most environmental damage, or threatening the long-term productivity of your farm? After you narrow down your major soil management concerns, make a detailed description of the problem areas: How severe is the problem? What are its boundaries? What is the condition of the soil? You can come back to this description periodically to track improvements.
Inventorying and assessing practices
What are the effects of your current management practices? Listing your current soil management practices will help you examine their effects and will give you a baseline for tracking changes.
You might develop this list by going through the six soil-friendly practices for improving soil health, and describing your current practices in each category. For example, for the first item (adding organic matter), you might write:
Leave room for comments and move on to the next category.
3. Creating an action plan
What are your management alternatives? What information do you need to decide how each alternative could address your problems and goals? Review the six soil-friendly practices and ask which ones might address your problem areas. Examine the other publications in this series for more ideas.
Label a sheet of paper as your "preliminary management plan" and jot down possible management changes to consider and learn more about.
4. Monitoring progress
What changes do you expect to see in your soil, water, and crops? Are they occurring? If your soil/crop ecosystem works well, it provides essential services: high crop yields, quality crops, water control, and pollution control. If the system is not working well, the land is less productive, pollution is more likely, and the soil shows signs of degradation, such as erosion, salinization, or compaction. The purpose of monitoring and record keeping is to find the link between soil quality and the management practices you use.
The table on page 17 lists items you might include in your soil management record-keeping system. When deciding what to measure and monitor, think about what information would convince you either that your soil is improving or that your practices are not having the desired effect. Keep in mind that some soil properties might not change significantly until a few years after changing a practice.
To monitor changes in soil quality, you can measure 1) how you are treating the soil (management practices, such as residue cover or length of crop rotation), 2) the condition of the soil (e.g., nutrient levels or compaction), or 3) how the soil is performing (e.g., yield, water quality, or erosion). All three provide different clues about how to modify management practices.
Information on how to monitor each of these is available in other publications in this series and from soil and crop advisors such as Extension educators, NRCS conservationists, private consultants, and dealers.
One part of monitoring may be on-farm trials. Before changing a practice on the entire acreage, many farmers test a small area to see if it is beneficial, how the technique needs to be modified, and what new problems are created. Take time before testing a new practice to make sure the trial will give you the information you need. On-farm trials are only informative if they make a valid comparison between the old and new practice. Ask your local Extension educator for help setting up a trial, and check the list of on-farm trial information in the Further Resources section at the end of this publication.
Pulling it together.
By now you should have:
These five items are the start of your soil management plan. Use this information to decide which publication in this series to read next. Keep your plan handy as you read the other publications, and revise it as you go.
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