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dirty hands

Dirt is a dirty word – The impact of soil health on sustainability

Dirt is synonymous with filth, clutter, mess, and other descriptors used for things that generally have a negative impact on well being.  That being the case, why should ‘dirt’ be used to refer to one of the most important things to sustaining life?  Short answer, it shouldn’t.  Soil is not just particles of sand, clay, and silt, but contains organic matter, microorganisms, and nutrients vital for plant growth.  Where would the human population be without healthy soils?  Another short answer, we wouldn’t be anywhere.  Soil health impacts water quality, food production, and environmental health.  It is an important component of sustainable land management.

Soil provides several important services to environmental health and sustainability.  It serves as an anchorage point for plant roots and provides the necessary environment and nutrients for plant growth, producing food for humans and animals.  It helps purify water, cycle nitrogen, and store carbon, improving environmental quality.  Soil is arguably a living organism as it respires and is partially made of microscopic plants and animals.  What can we do to protect and improve the integrity of our soils?

“The Health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible” – Albert Howard

One the most important, and simplest, things that we can do is soil testing.  Testing soil allows land owners and managers to obtain information on the current status of their land and make informed decisions about possible management techniques to improve the health of the soil.  The process is easy to follow and your local Extension Office may provide the required materials.

  1.  Identify the area(s) to be sampled.  If the area will be managed differently, it should be sampled separately.
  2.  Using a shovel or soil probe, take 10-15 soil cores and blend them together in a clean, plastic bucket.
  3. Remove as much plant material, rocks, or mulch as possible.
  4. Fill the paper bag provided by your local extension office to the appropriate line and complete the test form.  Your local Extension Agent can  help with this.
  5.   Mail the sample(s), form, and payment to the UF/IFAS Soil Testing Laboratory (ESTL).

Soil test results can provide information on pH, macronutrients, micronutrients, and organic matter.  The ESTL will provide a clear management plan addressing any changes that may be required, but your local Extension Agent is available for further explanation and to answer any questions that you may have. These changes can increase the productivity of your soil for plant growth and environmental services, allowing individuals to be better stewards of their land.  You cannot manage what you cannot measure, and luckily we have the ability to measure soil heath.

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