TEMPLE, Texas — The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and Texas Wildlife Association are joining other state agencies and organizations in a statewide campaign to highlight the importance of voluntary land stewardship in Texas. Soil and Water Stewardship Week is April 28 through May 5, 2019, and the focus this year is “LIFE IN THE SOIL: DIG DEEPER.”
The existence and livelihood of all Texas agricultural producers starts in the soil. Indeed, it is their life. It is also reasonable to assume that soil is the foundation for all life. Soil is the building block for the grassland and forest ecosystems that allows for livestock operations, timber production, and wildlife habitat. Our food and fiber crops are grown in the soil, backyard and urban gardens are planted in the soil, and our homes and communities are built on top of the soil.
But something that is unfortunately overlooked by many people is soil biology. Healthy soils are alive with complex communities of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, plants, and animals. Amazingly, there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on Earth. As conservation stewards, we all should manage our lands for the life deep within our soil, not only for those above it. We need to remember the five principles of soil health:
1. Minimize Disturbance – Ranchers utilize rotational grazing, farmers use high residue rotational crops and/or minimal or no-till systems where economically feasible, and foresters use Best Management Practices to protect the soil surface, balance wildlife populations with the carrying capacity of the land.
2. Armor the Surface – Keep the soil covered with vegetation, preferably native vegetation, and control invasive species. This cools the soil, slows water runoff and promotes water infiltration. Armor on the soil is essential during periods of drought or flooding.
3. Year-Round Roots – Having green plants year-round provides benefits from the plant roots, increases carbon in the soil, builds and recycles nutrients, attracts beneficial insects, provides physical protection from natural disturbances, and an opportunity to introduce grazers that bring so much biology to the system.
4. Diversity – Mother Nature loves plant diversity. Cool and warm season grasses with a good mix of broadleaf plants and trees are desirable to create, use, and recycle the nutrients and habitats that plants and animals need to grow. Control unwanted invasive species as they can disrupt soil microbiology, ecosystem health, and water resources.
5. Integrate Livestock – Including livestock provides beneficial biological inputs such as, urine, feces, saliva, hair, milk, and movement, that are important for healthy soils.
Texans have been working with their local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) for almost 80 years to voluntarily implement conservation practices that protect and enhance our soil and water resources, assisting producers to assess and enhance their soil health through the development of voluntary conservation plans.
Without healthy and productive soils our rangeland, cropland, and forests will fail, production agriculture will fail, and our society will ultimately fail. Whether you’re a farmer, a rancher, a forester, or just want to plant an urban garden, it is up to you to decide how to run your operation. We need healthy soils, and we also need good stewards of our lands that protect and preserve the natural resources of Texas.
Partnering organizations in the “LIFE IN THE SOIL: DIG DEEPER” public awareness campaign includes Audubon Texas, Ducks Unlimited, Earthmoving Contractors Association of Texas, Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, Plains Cotton Growers, South Texans’ Property Rights Association, Texan by Nature, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, Texas Ag Industries, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Texas Association of Dairymen, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas Conservation Association for Water and Soil, Texas Forestry Association, Texas Grain and Feed Association, Texas Grazing Land Coalition, Texas Land Trust Council, Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, Texas Water Resources Institute, The Witte Museum, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
For more information on “LIFE IN THE SOIL: DIG DEEPER,” please visit www.tsswcb.texas.gov.
–Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board
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