Considering Soil Quality and Water Availability for Farming | United Country Real Estates

January 17, 2024
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Explore how soil quality and water availability impact farming. Equip yourself with farming's best practices at United Country. Call us to learn more!

Considering Soil Quality and Water Availability for Farming

The team at United Country Real Estate has extensive knowledge of the agricultural industry and can help you make a more confident decision when purchasing farmland.

The Importance of Soil Quality in Agriculture

Soil quality is the very foundation of a thriving agroecosystem and plays a vital role in the growth and productivity of plants.  But consider that soil is more than just a foundation for plant growth - it also stores nutrients and reduces erosion and pollution. Its role in the nutrient cycle is vital, making soil quality key in farming and a significant variable when purchasing farmland. The health of soil directly affects crop types, yields, and sustainability, possibly making your investment less or more attractive.

The Components of High-Quality Soil

Texture, structure, nutrients, pH, and water capacity are some of the factors that determine soil quality.

  • Soil texture refers to how much sand, silt, and clay are in the mix. Sandy soil drains well but lacks nutrients. Clay soil has nutrients but may hold too much water. Loam, a mix of all three, is considered best for farming.
  • Healthy soil can absorb and hold more water, which can aid with managing crops during the drought season or extreme weather events.
  • Soil structure refers to how particles group together. Good structure promotes root growth, stores water, and prevents compaction resulting in improved air movement.
  • Organic matter affects soil structure, water-holding capacity, nutrient mineralization, biological activity, and water and air infiltration rates. This is one of the most significant properties of a healthy soil and it can be improved through effective management. 
  • Nutrients in the soil refer mostly to the three main ones: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) all vital for crops. These need replenishing for steady harvests. Other important nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur.
  • Soil pH measures the acidity or alkalinity. For most crops, pH of 6 to 7.5 is optimal. Soil pH levels that are too high or too low lead to a deficiency of many nutrients, a decline in microbial activity, decrease in crop yields, and a deterioration of soil health.

How to Improve Soil Quality

The most effective method for improving soil quality is incorporating organic matter like compost or manure. Farmers also rely on plant litter which refers to plant roots, stubble, leaves, and mulch. To bring nutrients back into the soil earthworms and microorganisms will decompose these materials and this process will release nutrients back into the ground.

Crop rotation is a standard practice in farming, and it can enhance soil quality. It helps with the reduction of pests and diseases and reduces the reliance on the same set of nutrients for each crop planted. 

Cover cropping, or growing crops specifically to protect and enrich the soil, can also aid in soil enhancement. Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, suppress weeds, and add organic matter and nutrients to the soil when they are tilled under.

Assessing and Maximizing Water Resources

Water is undeniably a vital component in farming and agriculture and a key factor when purchasing a piece of farmland.

There are two components to water accessibility:

-        A consistent and dependable source of water on the farm.

-        Water quality conducive for agricultural purposes.

Potential water sources can range from groundwater wells, surface water from rivers or lakes to even recycled wastewater. Understanding the local rainfall patterns and aquifer recharge rates, coupled with water quality testing, are essential steps in this assessment process.

Live water or dependable water access allows for efficient irrigation systems. Farmers utilize drip or sprinkler irrigation, which can dramatically even water distribution, and positively contribute to crop health.

Assessing Water Resources

Access to live water or other water sources on your property can greatly impact your choice of crops and how you choose to manage your farm.

Live water sources on your property. These can include surface water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds, as well as groundwater from wells or boreholes. Each of these resources presents its own set of benefits and challenges, particularly in terms of water quantity and quality.

Assess the volume of accessible water. This includes taking into consideration rainfall patterns in your area, recharge rates for groundwater aquifers, and flow rates for surface water. Account for seasonal variations in these sources and drought periods as a lack of water during key growing periods can significantly affect your farm's productivity. Rainwater and, in some instances, recycled wastewater can also be viable sources.

Assess the quality of your water. Water used for irrigation should be regularly tested for pH level, salinity, and the presence of potentially harmful substances - heavy metals and harmful bacteria. High salinity can damage soil structure and hinder nutrient absorption, while waterborne diseases can threaten crop health and human safety.

Strategies to Optimize Water Use

  • New methods of drip irrigation put water right at the plant roots. This maximizes hydration.
  • Mulching and cover crops stop water from evaporating while helping improve soil quality.
  • Picking the right time like early morning or late evening helps reduce evaporation.
  • Utilizing soil sensor technology to optimize moisture.
  • Collecting rainwater and reusing wastewater can help, but store and treat them right to avoid problems.

The relationship between soil quality and water availability is a delicate balance that must be maintained for optimal crop productivity and sustainable farming.

Improving Farming Practices

Balancing soil and water factors in farming comes as a daily necessity but the success of these efforts is directly related to the efficiency and precision of soil improvement and effective water usage.  Today’s technology adds much more accuracy to farming and agriculture and farmers are taking advantage of these tools to improve the success in their crop production. 

If you're considering purchasing or selling a farm, United Country Real Estate agents and brokers have decades of experience providing farm real estate expertise.

Contact United Country Real Estate today to find the perfect property that balances your budget and the plan for your agricultural business.