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Soil surface layer of the earth is composed of fine rock material disintegrated by geological processes; and humus, the organic remains of decomposed vegetation. In agriculture, soil is the medium that supports crop plants, both physically and biologically. Soil may be from a few inches to several feet thick. Components and Structure The inorganic fraction of soil may include various sizes and shapes of rocks and minerals; in order of increasing size these are termed clay, silt, sand, gravel, and stone. Coarser soils have lower capacity to retain organic plant nutrients, gases, and water, which are essential for plants. Soils with higher clay content, which tend to retain these substances, are therefore usually better suited for agriculture. In most soils, clay and organic particles aggregate into plates, blocks, prisms, or granules.
Undisturbed soils tend to form layers, called horizons, roughly parallel to the surface. The Russian system of soil classification, from which most others derive, is based on the distinctive horizons of the soil profile. The A horizon, the surface layer, contains most of the humus. The B horizon contains inorganic compounds formed by decomposition of organic material, a process known as mineralization; the material is brought to the B layer by the downward leaching action of water. The lowest soil layer, the C horizon, represents the weathered mineral parent substance.
Soil Fertility and Conservation Soil fertility ”the ability to support plant growth” depends on various factors, including the soil's structure and texture; its chemical composition, esp. its content of plant nutrients; its supply of water; and its temperature. Agriculture necessarily lowers soil fertility by removing soil nutrients incorporated in the harvested crops. Cultivation, especially with heavy machinery, can degrade soil structure. Agricultural soils are also vulnerable to mismanagement. Exposure of soils to wind and rain during cultivation encourages erosion of the fertile surface. Excessive cropping or grazing can depress soil-nutrient levels and degrade soil structure.
Soil conservation techniques have been developed to address the range of soil management issues. Various methods of cultivation conserve soil fertility .Minimum-tillage systems, often entailing herbicide use, avoid erosion and maintain soil structure. Soil fertility and agricultural productivity can also be improved, restored, and maintained by the correct use of fertilizer, either organic, such as manure, or inorganic, and other soil amendments. Organic matter can be added to improve soil structure. Soil acidity can be decreased by addition of calcium carbonate or increased by addition of sulfuric acid.
Soil conservation includes collection and analysis of soil samples and characterization of soils, appraisal of soil fertility and productivity, management of soil salinity/sodicity, soil contamination with heavy metals, solid waste management and assessment of impact of gases, liquid and solid pollutants on soil quality and remediation of polluted//contaminated soils.
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