Soil is the basic ingredient that is necessary to produce crops in farming. Much like your car needs fuel to run, farming needs healthy soil to produce crops. Soil is an important resource and is the foundation for all life on Earth.
Healthy soil equals productive land and organic matter is the key to productive soil. Organic matter is the part of soil derived from various stages of the decomposition of plants and animals. It is important for soil structure, tilth and provides energy for microorganisms, improves water infiltration, increases water-holding capacity and reduces erosion.
In South Dakota, scientists estimate that it takes 500 years to form one inch of topsoil. Over 650 different soil types have been identified in South Dakota.
Houdek (pronounced hoo-deck) is the state soil of South Dakota. This type of soil is not found in any other state. Houdek and closely related soils can be found on more than two million acres across South Dakota.
The Houdek soil series consists of very deep, well drained soils. Houdek soils are typically found on level to gently rolling land. Areas with Houdek soils are cultivated and most often used in crop production. Common crops grown on this soil include corn, small grain, alfalfa, and feed grains.
Farmers use conservation practices in order to protect and improve the quality of the soil and increase the crop yields.
Soil Resource Concerns
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Wind and Water Erosion
Sheet and Rill Erosion
Sheet Erosion is the uniform removal or detachment of soil particles caused by rainfall, moving water, or even wind. When enough water infiltrates the soil, it will begin to move downslope in a sheet, collecting loose soil particles. It can be identified by deposited soil at the bottom of a slope.
Rill Erosion is the removal of soil through running water. It develops from sheet runoff, and as the water moves downslope it develops little streamlets and directs water into channels. As water begins to flow more, it will pull soil with it thus becoming a rill. As rills grow deeper and wider, they then become gullies.
Wind Erosion is the removal and transportation of soil caused by wind. It can damage land and natural vegetation quality by depositing soil from one place to another.
Ephemeral Gully Erosion
Ephemeral Gullies are known as silent erosion because they can be easily smoothed over, hidden and planted on. These gullies are very much wider than deep, and usually form during heavy rainfall. Ephemeral gullies occur in the same flow area and are obscured by tillage. This includes concentrated flow erosion caused by runoff from rainfall, snow-melt, or irrigation water.
Classic Gully Erosion
Classic Gullies are deep trenches that are formed by running water. They are an advanced stage of erosion and tend to be too wide or too deep to be tilled across. They disfigure landscape and make land unfit for growing crops. Untreated classic gullies may enlarge progressively by head cutting and/or lateral widening.
Bank Erosion from Streams, Shorelines, or Water Conveyance Channels
Streambank or Shoreline Erosion is the gradual removal of sediment from the shoreline. It is caused by multiple factors including storms, waves, rain, ice, wind, runoff, and loss of trees and vegetation. When shoreline elevates, the land around it can get damaged and could hurt the ecosystem around it, such as nutrients, fish, vegetation, and water.
Soil Quality Limitations
Subsidence is a gradual lowering of the surface elevation of an organic soil, or a reduction in the thickness of organic matter.
Compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together, thus reducing the space available for air and water to infiltrate. This reduction restricts the plant’s root growth, therefore, effecting nutrient intake, animal habitation, and the soil’s biology.
Organic Matter Depletion
Organic Matter in soil refers to the organic components, such as plant or animal material, that goes into the soil and through the decomposition process. Organic matter affects a soil’s substance, including the soil structure, water infiltration and holding capacity, and the availability of biological activity. If there is a decline in organic matter, then it can affect rainfall infiltration and water holding capacity, limit the soil’s ability to provide nutrients to plants and lower soil fertility.
Concentration of Salts or Other Chemicals
Concentration of salts can lead to salinity and/or sodicity. Salinity refers to the accumulation of dissolvable salts in soil or water. Sodicity is the amount of sodium held in soil. The level of salt affects the suitability for irrigation and plant growth which can limit the desired use and structure of the soil.
Concentration of other chemicals can impact productivity or limit the desired usage. While certain chemical elements occur naturally in soils as components of minerals, some may be toxic at certain levels.
Soil Organism Habitat Loss or Degradation
A healthy soil is a living ecosystem that supports an abundant and diverse biological community that aids in land use productivity by providing key services and functions. Soil organism habitat loss or degradation occurs when quantity, quality, diversity, or connectivity of food, cover, space, shelter, and/or water is inadequate to meet the requirements of beneficial soil organisms.
A soil aggregate, also called water stable aggregate, is a composite of particles of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter that is bonded together both chemically and biologically. Management-induced degradation of water stable soil aggregates resulting in destabilized soil carbon; surface crusting; reduced water infiltration, water holding capacity, and aeration; depressed resilience to extreme weather; increased ponding and flooding; increased soil erosion and plant stress; and reduced habitat and soil biological activity.