Cyndi's Two Cents

Productive soil gives us a head start


Hair done. Make-up applied. I was all ready for an in-studio video shoot when I looked at my hands and saw that despite the soap, water and scrubbing, my fingernails reflected the hours I’d spent the day before picking fat and juicy blueberries, harvesting peas, pulling weeds, and digging around in my flowerbeds.

I could wear gloves, but I like way the soil feels in my hands. I like to feel the delicate skin on the berries and the firmness of the tomatoes and peppers as I pluck them from the plant that grows in that soil.

After church one Sunday many years ago, an 80-year-old friend and I were discussing this very thing. Ilene smiled as she lowered her voice as if sharing a secret with me. “I can’t wear gloves when I’m digging in the dirt. People ask me why and I tell them it would be like taking a bath with my shoes on!”

Composed of minerals, organic matter, gas, water and living organisms, soil provides nutrients and water for much of our planet’s vegetation. As farmers, we know that healthy soil is an important foundation for everything we grow. It is critical to productivity.

The type of soil, whether clay, silty clay, silt, sandy clay loam, loamy sand, sand, clay loam or another, says a lot about how and what plants will grow in it. Sand, silt and clay size and composition are responsible for the soil’s behavior.

Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are blanketed by some of the richest soil in North America.

In the state of Indiana, Miami soil covers nearly 800,000 acres in forty-two counties. These highly productive soils are formed in up to a foot and a half of loess or silty material and loamy till on till plains.

Drummer soil, developed under the prairie, is the most extensive soil type in Illinois. About 1.5 million acres of Drummer soil is found across much of the northern half of the state. Drummer soils formed in 40 to 60 inches of loess or other silty material and in the glacial drift.

We have some world-class farmers in the Heartland, but having some of the most productive soils on the planet admittedly gives us a head start. Establishing and maintaining soil health is key for continued success and that is why it is important to periodically evaluate your soils. You can tell a lot about deficiency of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, and organic matter by “eyeballing” the soil and recognizing signs of nutrient deficiencies in the crops you grow, but soil tests help identify specific needs in specific areas of your fields.

It is my hope that you are not only thinking about the harvest you will bring in this year. I hope you are planning for those harvests years from now when you might not be the steward of that piece of land you farm today.

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