New 4-H Project Raises Awareness About Healthy Soils

Missouri 4-H members are learning about healthy soils

Missouri 4-H members are digging deep into learning about healthy soils.

Missouri 4-H’ers are joining 4-H’ers across the nation in the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience, sponsored by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto. This year’s Ag Innovators Experience, called the Healthy Soils CSI (Carbon Soil Investigation) Challenge, helps 4-H’ers in third through eighth grade learn how modern agricultural practices can improve soil health, said University of Missouri Extension 4-H specialist Shane Potter.

The program also supports 4-H’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) efforts.

“Soil doesn’t just mean dirt,” Potter said. “There is an entire world beneath your feet.”

Soil is a mixture of minerals, organic material, living organisms, microbials, air and water. Potter said the program teaches 4-H’ers the whys and hows of improving soil quality. They also learn to conduct a variety of soil tests.

“By asking our 4-H’ers to become soil sleuths and CSIs, we can raise awareness of the importance of soil in a rich ecosystem,” he said.

Manjula Nathan, director of the MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory, said this new 4-H project will raise much-needed awareness of the importance of soil health. This will have long-term benefits whether these young people become involved in agriculture, owners of hobby vineyards or simply homeowners with lawns.

“These 4-H members will grow up as responsible stewards of the soil,” Nathan said. “If they can understand the concepts learned in this project, they will practice them and remember them.”

4-H’ers learn through videos and hands-on activities. They learn to evaluate soil quality through visual inspections and physical and chemical tests. Nathan said soil health depends upon the soil’s chemical, physical and biological properties. Much attention goes to the chemical properties of the soil and application of fertilizers and amendments, but the physical and biological properties are equally important to build sustainable soils, she said. Soil health looks into all three aspects of the soil to keep it healthy.

4-H members will learn how conservation tillage practices and cover crops prevent erosion and loss of nutrients, Nathan said. This leads to discussion on ways landowners improve the environment.