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Water Efficiency in Soils

                                               By DR. Robert Ellsworth, Ph.D.

Water availability to agriculture in North America is always a problem. Drought conditions of the past few years dictate the increasing importance of irrigation efficiency. This, plus the competition with the increasing demands of the population explosion and the resulting demand for water, has created a crisis that continues to grow in magnitude. It, therefore, behooves those involved in agricultural water usage to use all of the economically feasible opportunities available to them. To a furthering of this end, it is important to understand the value of increasing Soil Humus and the effect it provides to arable land.

Soil Humus, simply stated, is the end product of aerobic breakdown of organic matter in the soil. Organic Matter is defined as anything bearing Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H), and Oxygen (O) as the primary components of the substance. Crop residue is the largest source of organic matter in soils. Humus is formed from crop residue by complete decomposition, which as opposed to rot, is accomplished by the feeding activities of soil borne micro-organisms. Many byproducts are formed by these micro-organisms as they feed. Early in the cycle, Nitrogen and CO2 are released for uptake by the following crops.

Along the way, long chain sugars are formed, and are usually very sticky which glues sand, silt, and clay particles together into flocules (soil tilth). Over a longer period of time, 18 months or more, large numbers of Carbon Compounds are formed, known as Humic Acids, or Humus. Humus is a storage product of organic matter and may last, in an ever changing condition, for years or until it is returned to the active organic cycle to release Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen into the soil.

Good soil tilth allows for more rapid water penetration into the soil, and greater storage of the water on the soil particles. When water is associated with flocules of soil tilth, it may increase the absorption of water by as much as 50 times more than can be held by clay particles alone. A flocule acts as a tiny sponge which will absorb water quickly, hold it loosely, and release it more readily to the plant root. This increase in absorption and release created by a very small quantity of polysaccharides in humus can become a major supply of water to a growing crop. If this were the only benefit, it would be ample reward for developing increased Humus in our soils. The increased storability of water in the soil provides for greater chances for successful plant growth during drought conditions.

It has been demonstrated by many authors that soil absorption and release can be increased by as much as 50% by use of products such as ViTech’s ViBasic and ViClout. These products provide inducement to improve the activity of the aerobic soil micro-organisms, natural to the soil environment, and thus increase soil tilth and water availability.

The development of soil tilth and the breakdown of crop residue by soil micro-organisms will aid in the availability of soil water by 20% to 70%. Imagine the improved efficiency of irrigating 20% (or more) less often and yet improving the availability of water to the crop. This has been accomplished by the application of one (1) quart of ViTech’s ViBasic twice a year, once in the Spring at pre-plant, and once in the fall after harvest.


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