Soil conservation

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Erosion barriers on disturbed slope, Marin County, California Mmerosionrazorback.jpg
Erosion barriers on disturbed slope, Marin County, California
Contour plowing in Pennsylvania in 1938. The rows formed slow surface water run-off during rainstorms to prevent soil erosion and allows the water time to infiltrate into the soil. Contour plowing.jpg
Contour plowing in Pennsylvania in 1938. The rows formed slow surface water run-off during rainstorms to prevent soil erosion and allows the water time to infiltrate into the soil.

Soil conservation is the prevention of soil loss from erosion or prevention of reduced fertility caused by over usage, acidification, salinization or other chemical soil contamination.

Soil mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth's body of soil, called the pedosphere, has four important functions:

Erosion Processes which remove soil and rock from one place on the Earths crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolic) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. The particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by its dissolving into a solvent, followed by the flow away of that solution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Soil acidification is the buildup of hydrogen cations, which reduces the soil pH. Chemically, this happens when a proton donor gets added to the soil. The donor can be an acid, such as nitric acid, sulfuric acid, or carbonic acid. It can also be a compound such as aluminium sulfate, which reacts in the soil to release protons. Acidification also occurs when base cations such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium are leached from the soil.


Slash-and-burn and other unsustainable methods of subsistence farming are practiced in some lesser developed areas. A sequel to the deforestation is typically large scale erosion, loss of soil nutrients and sometimes total desertification. Techniques for improved soil conservation include crop rotation, cover crops, conservation tillage and planted windbreaks, affect both erosion and fertility. When plants die, they decay and become part of the soil. Code 330 defines standard methods recommended by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Farmers have practiced soil conservation for millennia. In Europe, policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy are targeting the application of best management practices such as reduced tillage, winter cover crops, [1] plant residues and grass margins in order to better address the soil conservation. Political and economic action is further required to solve the erosion problem. A simple governance hurdle concerns how we value the land and this can be changed by cultural adaptation. [2]


Slash-and-burn agriculture, also called fire-fallow cultivation, is a farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a forest or woodland to create a field called a swidden. The method begins by cutting down the trees and woody plants in an area. The downed vegetation, or "slash", is then left to dry, usually right before the rainiest part of the year. Then, the biomass is burned, resulting in a nutrient-rich layer of ash which makes the soil fertile, as well as temporarily eliminating weed and pest species. After about three to five years, the plot's productivity decreases due to depletion of nutrients along with weed and pest invasion, causing the farmers to abandon the field and move over to a new area. The time it takes for a swidden to recover depends on the location and can be as little as five years to more than twenty years, after which the plot can be slashed and burned again, repeating the cycle. In India, the practice is known as jhum or jhoom.


Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions.

Crop rotation practice of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons

Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons. It is done so that the soil of farms is not used for only one set of nutrients. It helps in reducing soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield.

Contour ploughing

Contour ploughing orients furrows following the contour lines of the farmed area. Furrows move left and right to maintain a constant altitude, which reduces runoff. Contour ploughing was practiced by the ancient Phoenicians, and is effective for slopes between two and ten percent. [3] Contour ploughing can increase crop yields from 10 to 50 percent, partially as a result of greater soil retention. [4]

Contour line line connecting points of the same value on a map

A contour line of a function of two variables is a curve along which the function has a constant value, so that the curve joins points of equal value. It is a plane section of the three-dimensional graph of the function f(x, y) parallel to the x, y plane. In cartography, a contour line joins points of equal elevation (height) above a given level, such as mean sea level. A contour map is a map illustrated with contour lines, for example a topographic map, which thus shows valleys and hills, and the steepness or gentleness of slopes. The contour interval of a contour map is the difference in elevation between successive contour lines.

Surface runoff The flow of excess stormwater, meltwater, or water from other sources over the Earths surface

Surface runoff is the flow of water that occurs when excess storm water, melt water, or other sources flows over the Earth's surface. This might occur because soil is saturated to full capacity, because rain arrives more quickly than soil can absorb it, or because impervious areas send their runoff to surrounding soil that cannot absorb all of it. Surface runoff is a major component of the water cycle. It is the primary agent in soil erosion by water.

Phoenicia Ancient Semitic civilization

Phoenicia was a thalassocratic, ancient Semitic-speaking Mediterranean civilization that originated in the Levant, specifically Lebanon, in the west of the Fertile Crescent. Scholars generally agree that it was centered on the coastal areas of Lebanon and included northern Israel, and southern Syria reaching as far north as Arwad, but there is some dispute as to how far south it went, the furthest suggested area being Ashkelon. Its colonies later reached the Western Mediterranean, such as Cádiz in Spain and most notably Carthage in North Africa, and even the Atlantic Ocean. The civilization spread across the Mediterranean between 1500 BC and 300 BC.

Terrace farming

Terracing is the practice of creating nearly level areas in a hillside area. The terraces form a series of steps, each at a higher level than the previous. Terraces are protected from erosion by other soil barriers. Terraced farming is more common on small farms and in underdeveloped countries, since mechanized equipment is difficult to deploy in this setting.

Terrace (agriculture) agricultural formation consisting of a slope cut into a series of receding flat surfaces or platforms

In agriculture, a terrace is a piece of sloped plane that has been cut into a series of successively receding flat surfaces or platforms, which resemble steps, for the purposes of more effective farming. This type of landscaping is therefore called terracing. Graduated terrace steps are commonly used to farm on hilly or mountainous terrain. Terraced fields decrease both erosion and surface runoff, and may be used to support growing crops that require irrigation, such as rice. The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the significance of this technique.

Keyline design

Keyline design is an enhancement of contour farming, where the total watershed properties are taken into account in forming the contour lines.

Keyline design

Keyline design is a landscaping technique of maximizing the beneficial use of the water resources of a tract of land. The "keyline" denominates a specific topographic feature related to the natural flow of water on the tract. Keyline design is a system of principles and techniques of developing rural and urban landscapes to optimize use of their water resources.

Perimeter runoff control

runoff and filter soxx

Tree, shrubs and ground-cover are effective perimeter treatment for soil erosion prevention, by impeding surface flows. A special form of this perimeter or inter-row treatment is the use of a "grass way" that both channels and dissipates runoff through surface friction, impeding surface runoff and encouraging infiltration of the slowed surface water. [5]

Shrub type of plant

A shrub or bush is a small- to medium-sized perennial woody plant. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs have persistent woody stems above the ground. They are distinguished from trees by their multiple stems and shorter height, less than 6 m-10 m (20 ft–33 ft) tall. Small shrubs, less than 2 m (6.6 ft) tall are sometimes termed subshrubs.

Soil erosion washing or blowing away of the top layer of soil

Soil erosion is the displacement of the upper layer of soil, it is one form of soil degradation. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolean) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. Soil erosion may be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed, or it may occur at an alarming rate causing a serious loss of topsoil. The loss of soil from farmland may be reflected in reduced crop production potential, lower surface water quality and damaged drainage networks.

Channel (geography) A type of landform in which part of a body of water is confined to a relatively narrow but long region

In physical geography, a channel is a type of landform consisting of the outline of a path of relatively shallow and narrow body of fluid, most commonly the confine of a river, river delta or strait. The word is cognate to canal, and sometimes shows in this form, e.g. the Hood Canal.


Windbreaks are sufficiently dense rows of trees at the windward exposure of an agricultural field subject to wind erosion. [6] Evergreen species provide year-round protection; however, as long as foliage is present in the seasons of bare soil surfaces, the effect of deciduous trees may be adequate.

Cover crops/crop rotation

Cover crops such as legumes plant, white turnip, radishes and other species are rotated with cash crops to blanket the soil year-round and act as green manure that replenishes nitrogen and other critical nutrients. Cover crops also help suppress weeds. [7]

Soil-conservation farming

Soil-conservation farming involves no-till farming, "green manures" and other soil-enhancing practices. Such farming methods attempt to mimic the biology of barren lands. They can revive damaged soil, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth, eliminate the use of nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, produce above-average yields and protect crops during droughts or flooding. The result is less labor and lower costs that increase farmers’ profits. No-till farming and cover crops act as sinks for nitrogen and other nutrients. This increases the amount of soil organic matter. [7]

Repeated plowing/tilling degrades soil, killing its beneficial fungi and earthworms. Once damaged, soil may take multiple seasons to fully recover, even in optimal circumstances. [7]

Critics argue that no-till and related methods are impractical and too expensive for many growers, partly because it requires new equipment. They cite advantages for conventional tilling depending on the geography, crops and soil conditions. Some farmers claimed that no-till complicates weed control, delays planting and that post-harvest residues, especially for corn, are hard to manage. [7]

Salinity management

Salt deposits on the former bed of the Aral Sea Aralship2.jpg
Salt deposits on the former bed of the Aral Sea

Salinity in soil is caused by irrigating with salty water. Water then evaporates from the soil leaving the salt behind. Salt breaks down the soil structure, causing infertility and reduced growth.

The ions responsible for salination are: sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+) and chlorine (Cl-). Salinity is estimated to affect about one third of the earth’s arable land. [8] Soil salinity adversely affects crop metabolism and erosion usually follows.

Salinity occurs on drylands from overirrigation and in areas with shallow saline water tables. Over-irrigation deposits salts in upper soil layers as a byproduct of soil infiltration; irrigation merely increases the rate of salt deposition. The best-known case of shallow saline water table capillary action occurred in Egypt after the 1970 construction of the Aswan Dam. The change in the groundwater level led to high salt concentrations in the water table. The continuous high level of the water table led to soil salination.

Use of humic acids may prevent excess salination, especially given excessive irrigation.[ citation needed ] Humic acids can fix both anions and cations and eliminate them from root zones.[ citation needed ]

Planting species that can tolerate saline conditions can be used to lower water tables and thus reduce the rate of capillary and evaporative enrichment of surface salts. Salt-tolerant plants include saltbush, a plant found in much of North America and in the Mediterranean regions of Europe.

Soil organisms

Yellow fungus, a mushroom that assists in organic decay. K 1033CR08-9 Yellow fungus on stalk.jpeg
Yellow fungus, a mushroom that assists in organic decay.

When worms excrete feces in the form of casts, a balanced selection of minerals and plant nutrients is made into a form accessible for root uptake. Earthworm casts are five times richer in available nitrogen, seven times richer in available phosphates and eleven times richer in available potash than the surrounding upper 150 millimetres (5.9 in) of soil. The weight of casts produced may be greater than 4.5 kg per worm per year. By burrowing, the earthworm improves soil porosity, creating channels that enhance the processes of aeration and drainage. [9]

Other important soil organisms include nematodes, mycorrhiza and bacteria.

Degraded soil requires synthetic fertilizer to produce high yields. Lacking structure increases erosion and carries nitrogen and other pollutants into rivers and streams. [7]

Each one percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. [7]


To allow plants full realization of their phytonutrient potential, active mineralization of the soil is sometimes undertaken. This can involve adding crushed rock or chemical soil supplements. In either case the purpose is to combat mineral depletion. A broad range of minerals can be used, including common substances such as phosphorus and more exotic substances such as zinc and selenium. Extensive research examines the phase transitions of minerals in soil with aqueous contact. [10]

Flooding can bring significant sediments to an alluvial plain. While this effect may not be desirable if floods endanger life or if the sediment originates from productive land, this process of addition to a floodplain is a natural process that can rejuvenate soil chemistry through mineralization.

See also

Related Research Articles

Tillage preparation of soil by mechanical agitation

Tillage is the agricultural preparation of soil by mechanical agitation of various types, such as digging, stirring, and overturning. Examples of human-powered tilling methods using hand tools include shovelling, picking, mattock work, hoeing, and raking. Examples of draft-animal-powered or mechanized work include ploughing, rototilling, rolling with cultipackers or other rollers, harrowing, and cultivating with cultivator shanks (teeth). Small-scale gardening and farming, for household food production or small business production, tends to use the smaller-scale methods, whereas medium- to large-scale farming tends to use the larger-scale methods.

Soil retrogression and degradation are two regressive evolution processes associated with the loss of equilibrium of a stable soil. Retrogression is primarily due to soil erosion and corresponds to a phenomenon where succession reverts the land to its natural physical state. Degradation is an evolution, different from natural evolution, related to the local climate and vegetation. It is due to the replacement of primary plant communities by the secondary communities. This replacement modifies the humus composition and amount, and affects the formation of the soil. It is directly related to human activity. Soil degradation may also be viewed as any change or ecological disturbance to the soil perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Soil salinity process of increasing the salt content

Soil salinity is the salt content in the soil; the process of increasing the salt content is known as salinization. Salts occur naturally within soils and water. Salination can be caused by natural processes such as mineral weathering or by the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes such as irrigation and road salt.

No-till farming agricultural method which does not disturb soil through tillage.

No-till farming is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till is an agricultural technique that increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, the soil's retention of organic matter and its cycling of nutrients. In many agricultural regions, it can reduce or eliminate soil erosion. It increases the amount and variety of life in and on the soil, including disease-causing organisms and disease organisms. The most powerful benefit of no-tillage is improvement in soil biological fertility, making soils more resilient. Farm operations are made much more efficient, particularly improved time of sowing and better trafficability of farm operations.

Nutrient management

Nutrient management is the science and practice directed to link soil, crop, weather, and hydrologic factors with cultural, irrigation, and soil and water conservation practices to achieve optimal nutrient use efficiency, crop yields, crop quality, and economic returns, while reducing off-site transport of nutrients (fertilizer) that may impact the environment. It involves matching a specific field soil, climate, and crop management conditions to rate, source, timing, and place of nutrient application.

Soil fertility Ability of a soil to sustain agricultural plant growth

Soil fertility refers to the ability of soil to sustain agricultural plant growth, i.e. to provide plant habitat and result in sustained and consistent yields of high quality. A fertile soil has the following properties:

Agroforestry land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland

Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. This intentional combination of agriculture and forestry has varied benefits, including increased biodiversity and reduced erosion. Agroforestry practices have been successful in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of the United States.

Agricultural wastewater treatment Farm management agenda for controlling pollution from surface runoff in agriculture

Agricultural wastewater treatment is a farm management agenda for controlling pollution from surface runoff that may be contaminated by chemicals in fertiliser, pesticides, animal slurry, crop residues or irrigation water.

Contour plowing

Contour bunding or contour farming or Contour ploughing is the farming practice of plowing and/or planting across a slope following its elevation contour lines. These contour lines create a water break which reduces the formation of rills and gullies during times of heavy water run-off; which is a major cause of soil erosion. The water break also allows more time for the water to settle into the soil. In contour plowing, the ruts made by the plow run perpendicular rather than parallel to the slopes, generally resulting in furrows that curve around the land and are level. This method is also known for preventing tillage erosion. Tillage erosion is the soil movement and erosion by tilling a given plot of land. A similar practice is contour bunding where stones are placed around the contours of slopes.Contour ploughing helps to reduce soil erosion.

Nonpoint source pollution

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is pollution resulting from many diffuse sources, in direct contrast to point source pollution which results from a single source. Nonpoint source pollution generally results from land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage, or hydrological modification where tracing pollution back to a single source is difficult.

Phosphorus cycle biogeochemical cycle that describes the movement of phosphorus through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere

The phosphorus cycle is the biogeochemical cycle that describes the movement of phosphorus through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Unlike many other biogeochemical cycles, the atmosphere does not play a significant role in the movement of phosphorus, because phosphorus and phosphorus-based compounds are usually solids at the typical ranges of temperature and pressure found on Earth. The production of phosphine gas occurs in only specialized, local conditions. Therefore, the phosphorus cycle should be viewed from whole Earth system and then specifically focused on the cycle in terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Soil biodiversity refers to the relationship of soil to biodiversity and to aspects of the soil that can be managed in relation to biodiversity. Soil biodiversity relates to some catchment management considerations.

Buffer strip

A buffer strip is an area of land maintained in permanent vegetation that helps to control air, soil, and water quality, along with other environmental problems, dealing primarily on land that is used in agriculture. Buffer strips trap sediment, and enhance filtration of nutrients and pesticides by slowing down runoff that could enter the local surface waters. The root systems of the planted vegetation in these buffers hold soil particles together which alleviate the soil of wind erosion and stabilize stream banks providing protection against substantial erosion and landslides. Farmers can also use buffer strips to square up existing crop fields to provide safety for equipment while also farming more efficiently.

In agriculture, leaching is the loss of water-soluble plant nutrients from the soil, due to rain and irrigation. Soil structure, crop planting, type and application rates of fertilizers, and other factors are taken into account to avoid excessive nutrient loss. Leaching may also refer to the practice of applying a small amount of excess irrigation where the water has a high salt content to avoid salts from building up in the soil. Where this is practiced, drainage must also usually be employed, to carry away the excess water.

Environmental impact of agriculture agricultures impact on the environment

The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature.

Soil management is the application of operations, practices, and treatments to protect soil and enhance its performance. It includes soil conservation, soil amendment, and optimal soil health. In agriculture, some amount of soil management is needed both in nonorganic and organic types to prevent agricultural land from becoming poorly productive over decades. Organic farming in particular emphasizes optimal soil management, because it uses soil health as the exclusive or nearly exclusive source of its fertilization and pest control.

Soil compaction, also known as soil structure degradation, is the increase of bulk density or decrease in porosity of soil due to externally or internally applied loads. Compaction can adversely affect nearly all physical, chemical and biological properties and functions of soil. Together with soil erosion, it is regarded as the "costliest and most serious environmental problem caused by conventional agriculture."


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  2. Panagos, Panos; Imeson, Anton; Meusburger, Katrin; Borrelli, Pasquale; Poesen, Jean; Alewell, Christine (2016-08-01). "Soil Conservation in Europe: Wish or Reality?". Land Degradation & Development. 27 (6): 1547–1551. doi:10.1002/ldr.2538. ISSN   1099-145X.
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  4. United States. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library (1943-01-01). Contour farming boosts yields: a farmer's guide in laying out key contour lines and establishing grassed waterways. [Washington, D.C.] : U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
  5. Perimeter landscaping of Carneros Business Park, Lumina Technologies, Santa Rosa, Ca., prepared for Sonoma County, Ca. (2002)
  6. Wolfgang Summer, Modelling Soil Erosion, Sediment Transport and Closely Related Hydrological Processes entry by Mingyuan Du, Peiming Du, Taichi Maki and Shigeto Kawashima, "Numerical modeling of air flow over complex terrain concerning wind erosion", International Association of Hydrological Sciences publication no. 249 (1998) ISBN   1-901502-50-3
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Goode, Erica (March 10, 2015). "Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil". The New York Times (New York ed.). The New York Times Company. p. D1. ISSN   0362-4331. OCLC   1645522 . Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  8. Dan Yaron, Salinity in Irrigation and Water Resources, Marcel Dekker, New York (1981) ISBN   0-8247-6741-1
  9. Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designer's Manual, Tagari Press, (December 1, 1988), 576 pages, ISBN   0908228015. Increases in porosity enhance infiltration and thus reduce adverse effects of surface runoff.
  10. Arthur T. Hubbard, Encyclopedia of Surface and Colloid Science Vol 3, Santa Barbara, California Science Project, Marcel Dekker, New York (2004) ISBN   0-8247-0759-1