COLUMBUS - Cherokee County K-State Research and Extension will be hosting an Agronomy meeting on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Cherokee County Extension Office. Breakfast will be served at 8 a.m., with presentations beginning at 8:30 a.m. The meeting will focus on improving soil health, tillage practices, rainfall simulator and more.

We live in a unique area of Kansas with fairly fertile top soil but it is only a few inches deep. We receive forty plus inches of rain each year, but our soil has little capacity to hold it; therefore, we dry out quickly and erosion is problematic. The organic material of our soil is low as well as our phosphorus and potassium levels, generally speaking. With these issues the question arises, “How can farmers increase productivity, remain sustainable, and be economically viable?”

Soil health is the basis for all the answers. Soil structure influences water holding capacity, how erodible the land is, and how available water is to the plant. A healthy soil has good soil structure. The soil structure depends partially on the mineral elements of the soil, but also on the other components of soil – especially the biological components. The plant roots, soil microbes (bacteria and fungi), and decaying vegetation make up an important part of the soil and help give the soil good structure.

A soil with good structure will form stable aggregates that allow easy infiltration of rainwater. The soil aggregates will hold water, yet release the water for greater availability to plants. While tillage initially increases the pore space in the soil, it destroys the soil structure by breaking apart soil aggregates, disrupting plant root and fungal hyphae networks, and reducing organic matter. Tilled soils become more compacted because of this loss in soil structure. In contrast, no-till preserves the plant and fungal networks, increases the organic matter in the soil, and creates soils with stable aggregates. It has also been shown that increasing soil organic matter increases the ability of the soil to absorb rain water, rather than having it run off.

As the organic matter in the soil increases, the plant-available water increases. Organic matter readily absorbs water, and holds it until needed by plant roots. It has been estimated that for every one percent increase in organic matter in the soil, the plant-available water in the soil increases by 25,000 gallons per acre. During the rapid growing phase, corn in southeast Kansas uses about a quarter-inch of water per day. So every four days, a corn crop needs an additional inch of soil water. Soils with greater amounts of organic matter would both increase the amount of water held in the soil, and increase the water available to that growing corn crop.

While we cannot change the mineral composition of our soils, we can change the biological component. To continue the discussion about soil health and our role in it, please plan on attending the meeting. For any questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 620-429-3849.

Kansas State University is committed to making its services, activities and programs accessible to all participants. If you have special requirements due to a physical, vision, or hearing disability, contact Dale Helwig, Cherokee County Extension, 124 W. Country Rd, Columbus, KS 66725, phone 620-429-3849 or email