Soil Health Management Series: Water Management

Soil Health Principle #1: Maintain Optimal Water Management

The Blackland and Tidewater region of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia is in a high rainfall area. Much of the area has an average rainfall of 50 inches per year or more and in some cases over the past few years there have been locations that recorder over 100 inches for the year. Added to this, with our elevation near sea level, water management is one of the most difficult aspects of farming in this region. Managing water properly is incredibly important to producing healthy crops, maintaining soil health and having a profitable farming operation.

Remove Excess Water Quickly

Fix primary drainage issues as quickly as possible. If you delay on this, many of the other things you can do to promote soil and plant health will not work well, particularly in the wetter areas of the field. Maintain field ditches and canals, utilize crowning or land leveling appropriate to the field contours, and consider tile drainage.

Improve Internal Drainage and Water Holding Capacity

Utilizing appropriate tillage, maintaining crop residues on the soil surface, and utilizing cover crops, will improve soil structure allowing more water to move down into the soil profile. This will have two primary affects. First, there will be less surface water that needs to be removed thus reducing strain on drainage systems and reducing crop injury from ponding water. Second, more plant available water will be stored in the soil profile to be used by the crop during drier periods.

Consider Advanced Water Management Systems

Crops need a consistent supply of water. Consider advanced systems, such as controlled drainage, sub-irrigation, and irrigation, that allow you to remove water, maintain water table at a certain level, and add water if needed.

For more information, please visit NCSU’s Drainage and Water Table Management website:

Guidelines for Managing Cover Crops in the Tidewater & Blacklands

Species & Planting

  • Before October 15 – Small grain at 30-50 lb/A + Clover at 5-8 lb/A
  • After October 15 – Small grain only at 40-70 lb/A


  • Terminate when cover crop is 6 to 10 inches tall or at least 3 week prior to planting, whichever is first.


  • Generally, no fertilizer is needed, unless you suspect very low soil nitrogen. Then add 10 to 15 lbs/A nitrogen at planting or in January or February.
  • Consider applying a complete biological soil inoculant at planting or over top once the cover crop is established.

IMPACT Agronomics Soil Health Monitoring Program

Soil Health Management Series: Intro

“Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”. – NRCS

Soil Health In the Tidewater and Blacklands

The Blackland and Tidewater region of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia is home to some of the most productive soils in the world. However, it is not easy to consistently grow crops with good yield and quality. Much of this has to do with the proximity to the coast, which often produces heavy rainfall events which overwhelm drainage structures and cause field flooding. Proximity to the coast also increases the risk for damage from tropical storms and hurricanes. While these risks cannot be eliminated, by consistently improving soil health, these risks can be mitigated to a degree. This issue kicks off a short series on soil health by starting with a definition of a health soil.

Defining a Healthy Soil: Four Principles

1. Optimal Water Management

A healthy soil will be able to hold sufficient water to support crop production and soil biology, while being able to shed excess water quickly because of good internal and surface drainage. Plants and soil biology need water to survive and function; yet too much water can reduce their growth.

2. Good Physical Structure

A healthy soil physical structure is characterized by good soil aggregation, good aeration and lack of compaction. Good physical structure or tilth allows for good infiltration and storage of water, proper nutrient cycling, and provides a good habitat for soil biology.

3. Robust Soil Biology

A healthy soil will have a robust and diverse biological community. Bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and other soil organisms, are an extremely important part of the soil ecosystem. They are responsible for breaking down organic matter, soil aggregation, and nutrient cycling.

4. Sufficient Soil Fertility

A healthy soil will be able to supply sufficient levels of nutrients to maintain healthy and productive crops. Managing soil nutrition, making sure that there are sufficient nutrients for the crop when they are needed most, is essential to promote plant health and profitable crop production.

Over the next four newsletters, we will take a more in-depth look at each of these four topics.

Soil Health Practices Increase Profitability

What would an extra $45 to $50 per acre do for your operation? According to a recent survey conducted by the Soil Health Institute this was the average increase profit for farmers when they were using a soil health management system. By using a system that focused on improving soil health farmers were able to increase profit on soybeans by $44.89 and on corn by $51.60.

Check out this summary by No-Till Farmer: soil-health-practices-boost-income-for-85-of-corn-growers/

Or dive into the data at the Soil Health Institute: