Water Penetration & Holding Capacity
Water holding capacity is important to soil health. Soils that can retain a balanced amount of water are able to nourish crops and keep soil organic matter alive. Healthy soil structure forms into aggregates, lessening the density in the soil to create more pores, where water can filter in and out. Humus, the decomposed organic matter in the soil, absorbs and holds onto water. If soils have healthy water levels, the crops will have a healthy uptake of water through the root system, leading to increased crop productivity.
As climate change leads to worse water conditions and more droughts, the water levels in the soil are suffering. Poor water supply is one of the most harmful conditions that explain the decrease in soil health and crop productivity. Dry soils cannot provide a good foundation for crops, and farmers face both struggling soil and an increase in demand for food, prompting research into new technologies that will enable the soil to store water more efficiently for longer. With technologies that build drought resistance by creating sponge-like absoption in the soil, crops will no longer depend on consistent rainfall for their water supply.
Soil moisture sensors can help farmers stay informed about the water levels of their soil, and technologies like nanoclay and subsurface water retention technology supplement the soil by absorbing and retaining water for plant use. Low-tech plant cocoons monitor a young plant’s water uptake through the roots, providing plants gradually with water accumulated from precipitation. But there are even simpler agricultural practices that can improve water retention in the soil. Farmers can adopt conservation tillage systems, extend crop rotations, and implement cover crops in order to not only enhance water holding capacity but also limiting the potential for run-off and evaporation.