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What Is Soil Conservation?

By Jay Leone
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Soil conservation aims to prevent the rapid erosion and overuse of soil. Most trees and other plants require soil to thrive because soil provides nutrients. Conservation of soil involves improving and maintaining general soil health through various practices including planting trees, rotating crops, and tilling.

Soil erodes rather quickly and takes quite a long time to naturally develop. The detrimental effects of weathering and erosion can be managed through soil conservation though. Nutrient-poor soil does not promote as vigorous vegetative growth as nutrient-rich soil. Good soil conservation contributes to better crop yields, enriched lands, and a balanced environment. Conservation of soil is especially important in countries with agriculture-based economies where entire populations depend on the success of crops.

Planting trees is one of the most common methods of soil conservation. As the trees mature, they grow deep roots, which stabilize soil and help prevent soil erosion. Trees, plants, and other vegetation also act as windbreakers, making it difficult for wind to shift away the soil beneath them.

Rotating crops is also an effective means of soil conservation. Cultivating the same crop for several consecutive seasons can cause pathogens to rapidly build up in the soil. Rotating crops involves growing different crops in a particular area across growing seasons. This practice improves overall soil fertility and structure. It also curbs pathogen build-up and helps prevent rapid nutrient depletion.

Terraces on hilly terrain help prevent soil from washing downhill when it rains. The practice of contour plowing involves plowing across slope contour lines to slow water runoff and prevent soil from washing away. Too much water can be disastrous to soil but too little water promotes erosion. Watering dry soil is an easy way to prevent soil erosion by the wind.

Tilling involves plowing and preparing soil for farming. Over time, this repeated process can make soil too compact to support any organisms including earthworms, which help aerate and enhance soil. No-till farming is a relatively effective means of soil conservation and can still lead to generous crop yields.

Maintaining the soil itself is perhaps the most effective means of soil conservation. Acid rains and basic or acidic pollutants can dramatically affect the pH level of soil. Nutrient availability in soil is greatly affected by pH levels. Salinity management ensures that soil does not accumulate an excessive amount of salts. Soil with high salt concentrations discourages vegetative growth, contributing to soil erosion.

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Discussion Comments
By pleonasm — On Dec 14, 2014

@MrsPramm - There are definitely still reasons for hope though. There is a movement along the border of the Sahara at the moment, for example, where multiple countries are cooperating to create a massive green belt of trees to stop soil degradation and the approach of the sands.

This is only one initiative but it's an example of grassroots efforts in soil conservation that are happening all over the world.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 13, 2014

@umbra21 - I definitely agree that soil science is important but I don't think it's innovations that we're lacking at the moment. Most of the time it's very well known what needs to be done and has been understood, at least in terms of cause and effect, since ancient times.

If you strip the vegetation from soil it will be washed away. If you get rid of all the trees near a desert, the desert will start to swallow the land.

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases we might know exactly what the problem is, but the people who live on the ground have no choice but to continue doing what they are doing. If you will starve if you don't sell firewood, then you're going to cut down trees, even if you know in the long term it's going to ruin the land.

What we need is people to find solutions to the economic situation.

By umbra21 — On Dec 12, 2014

For a while I seriously considered completing a degree on soil ecology, because it really does seem like one of the most important fields that anyone could possibly get into at this point in history. Everything we grow is so dependent on soil health and it's something that is so complex and still somewhat of a mystery to us.

Innovations in the conservation of soil could stop the approaching deserts and stop flooding and mudslides as well as rejuvenating thousands of acres of land that have been misused.

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