Extension Ag Update
November/December 2003
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Can Your Soil Hold More Water?

Ellen Phillips, Extension Educator – Crop Systems, Countryside Extension Center, 708-352-0109, ephillps@uiuc.edu

This year has been a difficult year for crops as storm clouds continue to pass over a field without dropping one drop of rain. There are ways you can improve your soils so that they will hold more water for your crops.

Retaining a crop residue cover on the surface of the soil will minimize the formation of soil crusts that can prevent water from infiltrating into the soil while increasing runoff. Depending on the percentage of residue, it can also lower the soil temperature in comparison to bare soils. This lower temperature will reduce the amount of evaporation from the surface

Incorporating crop residues, cover crops or manure into the soil to increase soil organic matter, will overtime increase the water holding capacity of your soil. This organic matter not only absorbs and holds water it also provides a source of food for soil organisms that help build soil structure. As soil structure improves, the infiltration of water into the soil will increase.

Minimizing tillage practices that can potentially compact the soil will improve the infiltration of surface water into the soil. Reducing field traffic, particularly when soils are wet is important during fall harvest operations.