Healthy soils provide foundation for healthy food production

Farmers will discover what makes a healthy soil and management practices for healthy soils at Agriculture Innovation Day on Aug. 24, 2016, in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Soil health has been a popular topic among farmers and scientists alike. So much so that the United Nations dubbed 2015 the International Year of the Soil. Managing soils for maximum health and increased production is challenging, but it can be done. On Aug. 24, MSU Agriculture Innovation Day Focus on Soil in Frankenmuth, MI, attendees will learn how to overcome soil health hurdles and keep farm operations running smoothly.

“Soil health is a general term reflecting the chemical, physical and biological properties that result in efficient food production and optimum ecosystem services,” said James Tiedje, a Michigan State University scientist who focuses his research on the issue.

Soil health can be broken down into three main categories: chemical, physical and biological properties.

  1. Chemical properties. Farmers have been soil testing for many years. This common management practice measures soil pH and key nutrients important for plant growth. Based on test results, recommendations for fertilizer and lime are given to optimize crop production.
  2. Physical properties. This includes soil characteristics that are inherent such as the soil texture (sand, silt, clay), but also includes soil color, structure, consistency and bulk density. While soil texture will not change, the other factors can be influenced by management. Compacted soils decrease water infiltration and reduce crop yields. Over-tilled soils can lead to surface compaction, loss of soil from wind and water erosion and ultimately yield loss.
  3. Biological properties. The life within the soil. This includes such things as earthworms and anthropods as well as things seen only with a microscope such as nematodes, protozoa, fungi and bacteria. Life in just one acre of healthy soils can equal the weight of two cows! That is a lot of life, life that helps break down residue, build soil structure and feed growing crops.

MSU has many researchers that are actively looking at ways to enhance crop production efficiency while improving soil health. In the field, one of the first steps in evaluating the soil health is observation. Spend some time with the soil and the crops that are growing. This will tell you a lot about what is happening with the soil above and below ground.

Farmers will be given a first-hand look at cropping systems and soils on Aug. 24, 2016, at the MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Soils held at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan. MSU is providing producers an opportunity to spend some time with the soil, learn from experts at MSU and across the Midwest about what makes a healthy soil, and what management practices contribute to a healthy soil. Registration beings at 8 a.m. and the event will wrap up around 4 p.m. The event is free and includes lunch. 

Throughout the day, farmers will have the opportunity to participate in nine sessions focused on:

  • Nutrient management
  • Soil quality
  • Compaction
  • Tile technology

MSU Agriculture Innovation Day is slated to become an annual event that will focus on in-depth education on a single topic. The event will rotate to various locations throughout the state. Experts will deliver innovative information to help producers take the next step in improving their bottom line while maintaining environmentally sound practices on their farms. 

To learn more, visit the MSU Agriculture Innovation Day website or contact Ron Bates at

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