The Roundup -

Soils 101 at Fairview High School


October 4, 2017 | View PDF

Explaining aggregate stability of a healthy soil and talking about the slake test.

Jamie Selting, District Conservationist at Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) located in Sidney, visited with students at Fairview High School to inform them about soil sciences, slake testing, available water capacity, and NRCS careers. Selting demonstrated how to identify particle size and differentiate between sand, clay and silt. He also demonstrated how to use moisture sensors for soil moisture management and how to test aggregate stability of a healthy soil.

Monitoring soil moisture is an essential part in several irrigation scheduling methods. It helps to determine when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Using too little water results in reduced yields and stressed plants. Applying too much water causes runoff and deep percolation which can result in nutrient loss.

Selting also talked about "feel and appearance method" which is another method used in irrigation water management. This method varies with different textures and moisture content. You can use this approach by squeezing a sample of soil into a ball and observing the soil firmness, surface roughness, and soil color of the soil sample. These characteristics will determine a rough estimate of the available percentage of moisture content in the soil.

Slake tests measure the stability of soil when put in water. Selting demonstrated this by putting different samples of soils in mason jars full of water and observing how fast it takes the sample of soil to break apart. Soil stability serves as a qualitative indicator of soil components, nutrient cycling, and energy flow.

Selting also talked about excessive tillage, tilling when soil is wet, and the affects it has on the soil structure. The structure units in the soils break down and cause soil to seal over. This reduces water and air movement into the soil, increases water runoff, bacteria, Actinomyces, fungi, and increases surface ponding of water. Therefore decomposition slows down, and the amount of released organic nutrients reduces.

Available water capacity is the amount of water that the soil can store for plants. Many properties can affect water capacity such as rock fragments, organic matter, bulk density, osmotic pressure, and texture of the soil. Available water capacity is used for depth of rooting. The root zone depth is how deep in the soil commodity crop roots can effectively extract water and nutrients. These topics are some of many that conservationists encounter throughout their career.

Jamie Selting demonstrates moisture sensors for soil moisture management.

The NRCS offers Pathways Programs which is designed to offer Federal Internships to High School and Postgraduate students nationwide. It helps students explore federal careers while still in school. The program provides essential training, career development, and hands on learning opportunities for individuals who are at the beginning of their Federal service. Students get to work side by side with experienced NRCS employees and conservation partners such as the Soil and Water Conservation District employees. If interested in the Pathways Internship Program more information is available online and you can also call the local NRCS in Sidney at (406) 433-2103.

The NRCS provides opportunities like the Pathways Internship Program with the goal of recruiting young aspiring conservationists so that they can keep helping America's farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation's natural resources.


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