Law enforcement has CSI; farming has SCI

As you watch, the fictional characters of the various TV ”CSI” shows handle a very real part of police work dealing with organic matter of the body as clues to solve crimes.

Agriculture has the equivalent dealing with the clues of organic matter of our land with the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI). This tool is used to help farmers factor in soil types, climate, crop rotation and tillage systems.

The SCI can predict the consequences of farming and management practices on organic matter. It predicts if levels are increasing, decreasing or remaining stable, but does not predict the amount of change in the soil.

SCI ratings have negative and positive values, with those in the positive range indicating increasing organic matter, and the negative values showing the opposite and the need for the farmer to reduce tillage or change their crop rotations.

The Conservation Security Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administered through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, requires a positive SCI in order to qualify for funding. Farming practices are part of the management plans needed for moving air and water through the soil which provides a good root system.

I was reading an article from “Progressive Farmer” in which Gregg Hillyer states, “A little detective work on what’s going on under the soil can boost the productivity of your fields.”

He enlisted the advice of other experts such as Mark Williams, a soil microbiologist at the University of Georgia who calls microbes the unsung heroes of a healthy soil environment. He says the microscopic wonders are the primary agents that release and make available basic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur to crops. They also decompose plant material and make it easier for water to get into soil and for plant roots to penetrate and grow.

Organic matter is the foundation for everything in soil quality, says Robert Kramer, USDA-ARS microbiologist at the University of Missouri. He believes it provides food for soil microbes. Without it, they can’t produce polysaccharides like glomalin the super glue for soil aggregate stability.

Aggregation enhances water infiltration to reduce surface erosion. It boosts aeration for both biological and root processes as well as for nutrient transformations.

If the soils are not up to par, you need to take action.

“It’s important to get a true assessment of the soils in problem fields,” says Dan Towery, national resource specialist at the Conservation Technology Information Center. “Then develop a plan and prioritizing those areas that need attention first.”

Healthy soils like the human body, is a complex balance of physical, chemical, and biological properties. So next time you watch one of these shows think of the farmer who is investigating his soils in order to better feed you and save the earth at the same time.

Mike Wilson is the executive director of the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District and is an associate member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau.