Building soil health important for #drought, #wildfire resiliency, experts say: Landowners learn steps to long-temr soil improvements — Steamboat Pilot & Today

This field is irrigated with water from the Roaring Fork River, under a senior water right. CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

The consultant with UnderstandAG — which uses the tagline restoring soil, profits, farms and futures — conducted a water infiltration test in the field that after 10 minutes showed very little water soaking into the hard soil. That is because, for one reason, the field had no armor, or a soil cover of plant residue on the surface. Soil cover is one of the six key elements for building healthy soil that the landowners and ranchers learned about during the all-day Soil Health Field Day on Aug. 15.

“Hay producers might be better off in the long term if they left a 3 or 4-inch stubble of hay, which would help generate a more healthy soil system and by maintaining a continuous living root or ground cover,” said Lyn Halliday, board president of the Routt County Conservation District, which organized the free workshop.

Halliday explained that healthy soils act like a sponge helping to absorb and contain moisture. Low soil moisture can cause plants to stop growing or dry out and may provide fuels for wildfires. On the other hand, when soil moisture content is high, fires have more difficulty in igniting, burning and spreading rapidly.

In the next demonstration area on the property, Fuchs showed with an infrared thermometer the 30-40 degree difference in temperatures of healthy soil versus compacted, poor soil. When Fuchs took a reading of 143 degrees on bare soil, he stopped to take a photo of the startling results because, he said, at 140 degrees, good soil bacteria die. He pointed out a soil temperature study that showed at 130 degrees, 100% of moisture is lost through evaporation and transpiration. At 100 degrees, 15% of moisture is used for plant growth and 85% is lost…

The conservation district recently released a “Routt County Landowner Toolkit for Building Drought, Wildfire and Soil Health Resiliency,” that is online at The toolkit includes links to helpful resources with the goal of inspiring county landowners and ranchers to adapt to changing conditions that affect the land and daily practices of farming and ranching. The toolkit points out the best management practices for agriculture include reducing or eliminating tillage, nurturing the living organic components of soils, promoting diversification of soil flora and fauna below ground and plants above ground, creating pollinator habitat, diversifying rotations including grazing, and reducing wind erosion by establishing wind breaks.