Where there’s water, there’s life. That is a saying more for Africa but also appropriate for here in the States. Water is the key to help plants grow by being part of photosynthesis and moving nutrients through the plant. Where does this water come from? From the ground. Nutrients are drawn up from the soil, where water helps move those nutrients through the plants to keep them rigid and upright.
So what is the whole deal about water infiltration? Well, the more water your soils can hold, the healthier your plants are, essentially. Other benefits of having healthy soil infiltration include: decrease runoff, decrease leaching of nutrients, especially nitrates to waterways, eventually recharge underground aquifers and improve drought resistance in croplands.
How can farmers fully utilize these benefits? By implementing soil health principles such as no till, crop rotations and maintaining soil armor via cover crops. Cover crops do this via root growth which improves soil structure. Good examples of cover crops to use include high residue crops, small grains and perennials, such as grasses and alfalfa. Such crops used in rotation will provide max benefits. Higher diversity cover crop mixed create more diverse root structures, which leave more residue, slowly building soil organic matter. Building soil organic matter is key to water infiltration and the soils water holding capacity, as 1% organic matter holds approximately 26 000 gallons of water! For example, by implementing these principles the Horas in Washington County, Iowa, managed to build their organic matter by 1.4%, allowing for a water infiltration rate of 4’’ of water in 5 minutes. They did this all with an average SOM of around 4%.
By implementing these regen and soil health principles, it is possible to improve water infiltration, allowing more water to be held underground. This is key to helping getting farmers through times of drought and keeping those plants nice and healthy when all else is not!