The subtle science behind soil aggregates

The subtle science behind soil aggregates

On the surface, the soils appear fairly simple – an environment in which farmers plant seeds.

In fact, soils are complex, filled with many substances and living creatures. A teaspoon of soil, for example, contains aggregates: particles of sand, silt and clay bound together by organic matter.

The stability of aggregates is why some soils act like a sponge, absorbing water quickly after a heavy rain. Soils with little aggregate stability can be muddy and sloping for days. Good aggregate stability gives soils the resilience necessary to withstand adverse climatic conditions such as high winds and torrential rains. Soils with poor aggregate stability are easily blown away by wind and water, even during minor weather events. This leads to soil erosion, compromised water quality and ultimately loss of productivity, says Aaron Daigh, associate professor of soil physics and hydrology at North Dakota State University. (NDSU).

Native grasslands have good overall stability. Plowed fields, on the other hand, do not. Tillage separates aggregates and introduces air into the soil, stimulating microbes to increase the rate of decomposition of organic matter. As the soil loses organic matter for the benefit of …

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