Without organic matter, soil would just be a mixture of sand, silt and clay with limited ability to hold nutrients.
Soil organic matter is made up of plant and animal matter which releases nutrients into the soil as it decomposes. This improves the porosity, workability, fertility and biota of soils, as well as helping to maintain good structure.
Where there are good levels of soil organic matter, the risk of capping, slumping and erosion can be reduced.
Levels of soil organic matter can be maintained or improved by:
In an arable rotation, reduced cultivation techniques can also be a good practice to help maintain soil organic matter, especially in the soil surface tilth.
In grassland, sensitive management of permanent pasture is key.
Biota describes all the animal and plant life in the soil. A diverse biota is required to maximise soil health and crop potential, reduce reliance on artificial inputs and achieve better disease resistance in crops.
A diverse soil biota is required to:
The burrowing, feeding and casting of earthworms plays a major role in decomposing and cycling organic matter and in releasing nutrients. They can also improve soil porosity and aeration, water infiltration and conductivity, aggregate size and stability, reduce surface crusting and increase root growth and subsequent yields.
© NFU 2018