Wisconsin’s end-of-summer soil health

Matt Ruark
Extension Soil Scientist
Department of Soil Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Total Time: 3:17

0:15 – Soil health this time of year
1:12 – Cover crops and usage
1:48 – Building healthy soil
2:28 – No-till systems in Wisconsin
2:54 – Soil information and resources



Adam Wigger: “Wisconsin’s end-of-summer soil health.” Today we’re talking with Matt Ruark, Extension Soil Scientist, Department of Soil Science, University Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and I’m Adam Wigger. Matt, the summer’s winding down, falls just around the corner, can you tell us about soil health this time of year?

Matt Ruark: You bet. So I mean at this time of year, we’re getting ready for harvest. Farmers are thinking about soil health management practices after harvest right. So as the fields get harvested how much biomass is left on the surface, will there be any tillage that are done on the fields, will there be opportunities to plant cover crops. And so right now one of the big things I see is corn silage harvest and the opportunities to get cover crops planted on those fields is quite high. So right now if farmers that are interested in soil health building practices, especially related to dairy farming and having corn silage coming off the field, winter rye and spring barley are great options for fall cover crops. They help protect the soil and they help bring more carbon into the soil in these cropping systems.

Adam Wigger: So can you go over for our listeners what a cover crop is exactly?

Matt Ruark: You bet. So cover crops are crops that are planted and grown without the idea that they’re gonna be harvested. So they’re there for erosion control, but also if used over many growing seasons you’re going to see improvements in the physical and biological characteristics of your soil. So what does that mean? It means that you’re over time it’ll help with water retention and filtration but also build microbial activity in the soil which can help build organic matter and cycle nutrients.

Adam Wigger: Are there any other ways that we can build that in our soil?

Matt Ruark: Yeah. So when we talk about building soil health cover crops are a really popular choice just because it’s something new you’re adding to the system and it gets more plant material and more roots into the ground which is really beneficial. But other practices that a lot of farmers are already doing – reducing tillage, in fact going to no-till system or things like having manure applied. Compost manure or liquid manure adds more carbon and improves the biological activity of soil. So all of those three things combined are practices that we recommend to build soil health.

Adam Wigger: Yeah. So would you say that a lot of Wisconsin farmers are moving towards this no tillage system?

Matt Ruark: I think it’s very popular. Just like any management practices start small learn the ropes as always. There’s a few tricks that farmers need to learn along the way but there’s a lot of experienced no-tillers in the state and a lot of interesting research that suggests that there’s a real benefit to no-till in some soils.

Adam Wigger: So if people are looking for resources on this or information to further their knowledge where can they look?

Matt Ruark: They can go to our soils Extension web site which is extension.soils.wisc.edu, or contact myself mdruark@wisc.edu.

Adam Wigger: Thanks Matt! We’ve been talking with Matt Ruark, Extension Soil Scientist, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Adam Wigger.