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How to get the maximum productive potential from the soil
Soil productive potential is a concept that refers to the possibilities of the land to be as productive as possible, in quantity and quality. It does not refer to production figures as such, but more so, as its name suggests a set of values that tell us about its potential.
Understanding what these values depend upon and why, is fundamental in answering the question we ask ourselves – how can we get maximum yield?
Here we review what you need to know about organic material, biological activity, water management, soil structure and other questions that may arise in this area.
What is it and what does soil potential depend on?
The ability of the land to sustain plant growth and optimize crop yield is known as productive soil potential or soil fertility. This depends on a range of intrinsic factors of the soil itself, as well as other external factors such as:
- Water availability, whether this comes from rainfall, the nature of the soil itself and its permeability, or nearby water sources. Water may act negatively on the productive potential, as there may be too much or not enough. The most productive soils are the ones that drain properly with regular irrigation.
- Erosion and availability: the space available and the possibility of its use are also essential factors in productive potential. An eroded soil loses its life and characteristics; space becomes limited as does the ability to support species of vegetables.
- Composition and nutrients: the chemical properties of the soil are closely related to its fertility. Some of them, especially those near waterways, are particularly fertile. Others, however, may have too many or too few mineral salts or other components.
- Biological activity: besides their chemical composition, soils are inhabited by an infinite number of microorganisms. Fungi and bacteria form part of a particular ecosystem typical to each type of soil and they work together with the plant. To eradicate microorganisms completely from the soil is counterproductive as they help and are responsible for making sure that the vegetable obtains all the nutrients it needs, as part of a symbiotic relationship that exists between the two. In the same, way, if microorganisms are not controlled, this may result in crops dying due to infection.
- Soil structure: the previous aspects can be clearly seen in the structure of soils. This may be vertically, from the surface inwards and from the plant, as a central point towards the exterior (both the air and the earth). In both these axes, the structure of the soil, its chemical and biological composition, change. This soil structure is extremely important in productive potential as crops need to hold on firmly to the soil and get their nutrients and water from it.
Unlike other aspects, measuring productive potential, a priori, is not an easy task. Apart from the previously stated aspects, productive potential will also vary depending on factors such as climate, additional treatments and the crop we are using these treatments for. However, as we have just seen, what is easy to do is work on the soil in order to maximize its potential to suit our needs.
Soil productive potential, what can I do to improve it?
It has to be said that while it is difficult to measure soil productive potential objectively, this does not mean that we cannot get the most out of its fertility. How? Firstly, we must think about the crop we are going to plant. Each crop has its own needs and as we have already explained, soil productive potential is directly related to this.
Once we have identified the specific needs of the crop, we need to prioritize them. Each type reacts differently to water, nutrients, heat or soil pH. We should know which aspects affect the crop and how quickly. Once we know this, we can start working on the main factors that we can control in order to increase fertility – treatments.
These treatments range from adding fertilizers and products, to green-housing or microorganism treatments to improve the rhizosphere. How will we do this? In general terms, any steps taken to improve soil productive potential are sustained and medium or long-term.
- We can treat the soil in preparation for planting, by regulating the levels of organic matter and adding nutrients, or better still, prepare the soil for the beneficial microorganisms that will work with the crop.
- Preparing the soil also means cleaning it, airing it and sometimes mixing it with other materials which will help to increase its potential. This is normally done in the traditional way.
- After planting, there has to be a regular follow-up of all the properties that affect his crop in particular – how much organic matter is there in the first 500cm of soils? What is its pH? How much salt precipitation is there? How about the nitrate level? Is the soil too dry? Some of these characteristics can be seen with the naked eye while specialized analysis may be needed to see others.
- We can correct or enhance some factors that depend on fertility, by adding, for example, nutrients, correctors or even biocides in some cases. What is important, at all times, is finding a balance. Too much will always give low soil productivity, in the short, medium or long term.
- Protection crops can be added, or species of crops that work well and are beneficial to the soil when combined can be planted together. Some are a good idea because they offer cover – some attract pollinizers or help to control plagues; at other times these species connect microorganisms which are beneficial to the whole rhizosphere and the plants nearby.
- The plant’s nutritional activity can be intensified by using specialized microorganisms that are added to the soil, increasing its productive potential. The same could be done with protective organisms against fungi or insects.
- Total productivity cannot be measured until harvesting time and this must always be compared with soil that has not been prepped or treated for maximum boosting. It is also important to control external factors as much as possible, although these may very often be beyond our control.
To conclude, we can work to boost the fertility of our soil as long as specific steps are taken to do so, taking into account the needs of the specific crops we plant. With this in mind, we need to be firstly informed as to these needs. Apart from this, the action taken must be continuous and constantly reviewed, and can only be adjusted once productivity has been measured at the end of the growing process.