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Improving the Nutritional and Physical Performance of Soils

Sponsored by Ferticell®

As said by Wendell Berry, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.” How we manage and monitor our soil is directly reflected in how it performs during the season. By concentrating on developing soil physical properties, growers develop a sustainable process in restoring the foundation for productivity.

When reviewing soil types, soil particle sizes are classified into macro and microaggregates. The level of soil organic matter (SOM) will be a critical factor in the contribution to aggregate size classification. Soil nutritional practices will be an integral part in facilitating the decomposition of SOM.

Traditional basic practices such as keeping the soil covered, diversifying crop rotations, utilizing the immense benefits from cover crops and even incorporating livestock into your growing system, will all benefit the grower’s most precious resource. In addition to these common practices, there is potential for improvement through plant beneficial materials that will stimulate the production of CO2 and increase carbon efficiencies.


As the main component of soil organic matter, carbon is essential for soil fertility, structure, and water-retention capacity. Carbon comes in either organic or inorganic forms, and we always want organic carbon. Decaying plant matter, soil organisms and microbes, and carbon ingredients such as sugars, proteins, carbohydrates, starches, resins, etc., all directly feed SOM.

As we build toward soil health, our main focus is aggregate size. Macroaggregates will always benefit SOM development and accrual, so product selection is essential in optimizing that development. Products containing natural carbohydrates such as glucose will be mineralized to CO2 and can have a significant impact on aggregate size. This natural cycle in soils can be fulfilled by priming soils with the proper components. Increasing aggregate size will accelerate SOM decomposition and protect carbon with the addition of a plant derived carbon source.

Low carbon inputs may have little to no effect on soil aggregates, whereas the use of high carbon can induce strong positive results, making product selection with carbon a helpful corrective practice in fertility use. In soils with high clay content, calcium can be a facilitator for building soil organic matter.

Soil Physical Properties

Greater risks from heavy rainfall can be alleviated, along with a reduced impact from salts in irrigation water when soil physical properties are protected. Sending soil samples to a reputable lab and collecting the samples properly may be the most critical task on a farmer’s to-do list. These reports along with visual inspections like scouting surface germination from weeds and a restricted growth response on many varieties can all be indicators of poor soil health.

To avoid compaction, soils must be able to absorb and drain gravitational water. This is easily done when macroaggregates are present. The macroaggregates create space for both oxygen and water to move through the soil freely, as well as provide space for rooting plants.

Left image of cards tightly stacked, right image of cards loosely stacked

Much like this used deck of cards, the space in soils created by macroaggregates will allow for adequate soil draining aggregation. Then rainfall and irrigation will form a natural organic acid (Carbonic) for soil restoration. This will also control the cleaning of risk gasses as they collect in soils.

The opposite effect occurs with the presence of microaggregates, which will not provide an important step in gas exchange with oxygen.

The detrimental effects of microaggregates can produce costly margins at harvest if not addressed appropriately. Aggregate stability, porosity, structure, and density are all physical properties of soil that are essential for the development of biological activity, nutrient cycling, and water retention.

A soil’s physical properties will affect the performance of applied chemicals, especially for control products. When aerobic and anaerobic microsites, (pockets within soils) are not functioning properly, chemical degradation can be slowed or disrupted. If these microsites are not close together, other problems can develop. The use of frequency as the foundation for soil health cultural practices simplifies corrective measures. 


Without testing and consistent review of soil analysis, it is almost impossible to fine tune any fertility program. This also applies for any soil priming efforts. Farming operations should always consider the use of a laboratory service as a critical component that will provide the chemical results as well as soil physical properties.

As a rule of thumb, soil exams should always include an analysis of sand, silt, and clay. This is an important part of soil testing and with the sand analysis, a determination of sand particle sizing is beneficial for determining a uniform sand size. A minimum of six screen sizing results should be requested.

A reputable lab should be selected and a minimum of 15 sample cores from each field of 25 acres or less into one composite sample. Alternating samples in a z-pattern at the same depth will help influence accuracy. Cores should be mixed thoroughly to provide a consistent sample.


The microbial biomass of soils is directly affected by the amount of carbon in soil and aggregate distribution. Efficient fertility programs should include multiple applications of a plant-derived carbon, versus a mineral that will require conversion to the correct carbon form. Macroaggregate particle sizing will provide the best branching of horizontal root growth for water and nutrient uptake.

Sponsored Content

Priming is a very promising strategy in modern soil management. Enzyme activity and protein abundance were highly induced by cold priming while heat priming can improve of plant thermo-tolerance to the later recurred heat stress in many species. With a 17% plant-derived carbon source, Pro Primer™ is a liquid fulvic acid fertilizer with high levels of plant-derived carbon, carbohydrates, and amino acids, designed for soil priming and highly affective for building soil health.