Soil health is a popular topic today. Many entities including NRCS, universities, non-profits and private companies are promoting soil health and how to improve it. Growers are interested in the health of their soil, but worry that the cost of improving it will not generate a profit and may end up costing them money.
Dave Rahe, with RPM Soils and a 2019 CCA Soy Envoy, works as a soil scientist and is very interested in improving the health of his customer’s soils. He says that when studying soil health, you need to track three parameters: chemical, physical and biological.
“Maintaining the physical nature of the soil is easy,” said Rahe. “Have good drainage and structure, prevent erosion and don’t compact the soil. And for the chemical aspect, run standard soil tests and make sure you have an available nutrient supply.”
However, he explained that biology is harder to test for, but soil organic matter is one good measure and is part of a routine soil test. “There is still no standard soil health test today and interpreting any numbers generated by a soil health test can be difficult and confusing. One of the tools I use is the Solvita soil respiration test. It measures biological activity and I can quantify progress in improving soil health.” He recommends growers run a soil health test before starting and then track improvements over time.
As a soil scientist Rahe works with a range of growers, some very interested in soil health and soil management and some not so much. “Getting them interested can be a challenge. I start by showing them where they are at and then show them how to improve.” For those interested he recommends they start by adopting no-till and cover crops. “No-till and covers can enhance soil health more quickly than any other practice. And a combination of the right cover crops can really stimulate microbial activity.”
He acknowledges that there are all kinds of biological products available today that are supposed to increase microbial activity and improve soil health. But he believes growers can accomplish the same results by adopting no-till and covers. “I say, why don’t they just grow their own biology? The microbes you have already are adapted, persistent and can thrive in your environment.”
When it comes to advising his customers on soil health Rahe recommends the following:
  1. “Get your nutrient levels up, this is easy to do.”
  2. “Watch the amount of tillage, minimize and avoid compaction.”
  3. “Grow your own biology by no-tilling and planting cover crops.”
The ILSoyAdvisor sponsored webinars on soil health. Below are links to several of them.

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About the Author: Dan Davidson

Soybean agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D., posts blogs on topics related to soybean agronomy. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.