Soils are a critical natural resource, but their health has degraded in many current agricultural systems according to soil health expert Prof. Harold van Es from Cornell University at a lecture hosted by ICRISAT.
Prof. van Es cited examples from across the globe, the available remedial measures, and the importance of a comprehensive assessment of soil health.
Among global examples cited, the increasing demand for soybean was one that is driving global land conversions and soil health degradation due to soybean cycling little carbon back to the soil.
Prof. van Es shared examples of soil degradation in Kenya resulting in low maize yields and conversion of grasslands into croplands in Uruguay. He also presented case studies from the Indian states of Jharkhand and Bihar and gave an overview of how crop residues improve soil health.
“Soil health initiatives need to consider more complex, multi-objective production environments and digital technologies that can integrate complex cropping system dynamics,” said Prof. van Es.
He spoke of the comprehensive assessment of soil health (CASH) developed by Cornell University and elaborated on physical, biological, and chemical indicators. Speaking of the soil health framework, he presented various publications authored and co-authored by him.
During his talk, he emphasized the four key principles of nutrient management for better yield.
“The implementation of the four ‘R’s – right source, right rate, right time, and right place – will guide farmers to manage soil health. It helps farmers achieve cropping system goals and can aid increased yield and profitability while protecting the environment and improving sustainability,” said Prof. van Es.
In the Q&A session, participants asked about the most important soil quality indicators, the relationship between soil health and the nutraceutical (health benefitting) properties of crops, best agronomic practices for best soil health management, and ways to incentivize Indian farmers to improve soil health.
Prof. van Es teaches soil and crop management for sustainability and space-time statistics at the School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The lecture on ‘Soil Health: What Have We Learned from Across the World’ was hosted by Dr Sreenath Dixit, Cluster Leader, ICRISAT Development Center and Dr Pushpajeet Choudhari, Manager-Soil and Plant Laboratory on August 16, 2022. Attended by over 150 participants, the lecture was organized for soil scientists, students, and collaborators.