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2007 Soil and Water Conservation Society - Soil Quality Workshop

"Soil Quality: the Foundation for Natural Resource Quality"


Ray Archuleta
USDA NRCS, Greensboro, NC

Saline or sodic soils are typically managed from a soil physical and soil chemical approach with a spattering of soil biology. With this type of approach, heavy emphasis is placed in the following practices:  drainage systems, efficient irrigation systems (drip and sprinkler systems), land leveling fields for flood systems, heavy tillage, nutrient management, and the adding of chemical amendments (gypsum, elemental sulfur, and sulfuric acid). Most of these practices are needed for managing salinity. Yet, with this type of high-input irrigated agriculture, it is difficult to determine if the soil is a living system or an inert growing medium.

As fuel costs, chemical amendment costs, and the installation of expensive conservation practices continue to rise, it behooves landowners to seek a “paradigm sift” for managing Saline or Sodic soils. The “paradigm shift” is to manage salt impacted soils from a “soil biology” point view. The focus should be that the soil is a live! The soil is a habitat for macro and micro organisms; organisms which make the soil function as a living system.

Sodic soils managed from a “biological approach” will address a central core problem associated with these types of soils; soil dispersion. Soil dispersion causes clay particles to plug soil pores, resulting in reduced soil permeability. When soil is repeatedly wetted and dried and clay dispersion occurs, it then reforms and solidifies into almost cement-like soil with little or no structure. The three main problems caused by sodium-induced dispersion are reduced infiltration, reduced hydraulic conductivity, and surface crusting.

By understanding and applying basic soil ecology principles that improve soil health; landowners will improve soil structure, increase soil buffering capacity, increase yields, reduce chemical inputs, and reduce energy costs.

Ray Archuleta - Ray Archuleta is a Conservation Agronomist for the USDA NRCS Soil Quality Team located at the East National Technology Support Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ray has 20 years of work experience with NRCS. He has worked in four states and held the following positions: Conservation Technician, Soil Conservationist, Nutrient/Irrigation Specialist, Water Quality Project Manager, District Conservationist, and Area Agronomist. He is also a Certified Professional Soil Scientist with the Soil Science Society of America. Ray served two years in Guatemala working as a Peace Corp Volunteer. He received his BS in Agricultural Biology from New Mexico State University.