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How Soil Type Impacts Your Crops

August 14, 2023

A clean field ready for planting.

Understanding Soil Types

Healthy soil is the foundation for healthy crops. When soil problems occur, they can stress growing plants and decrease yields. Protecting your yield potential depends on understanding different soil types and their unique challenges.

Soil types are largely determined by particle size and fit into 3 overarching categories: clay, sand, and loam. Soil texture impacts drainage and nutrient capacity, and certain crop inputs may behave differently depending on the soil type. Each type has benefits and drawbacks that affect corn and soybean growth and yield potential.

Clay Soil

clay soil type

Clay soils have a fine texture and drain slowly, holding more water and nutrients than other soil types.  It can be difficult to work with clay soil because it is heavy and prone to compaction. Soil crusting is also a concern when weather conditions cause water pooling at the surface to evaporate rapidly, creating a hard barrier that hinders seedling emergence and growth. Due to the high surface area and chemistry of clay particles, fields with clay soil may require higher rates of inputs (e.g., herbicides) than sandy soils.

Sandy Soil

sandy soil type

Sandy soils primarily consist of large particles that create a coarse texture. Although sandy soil is easier to work with than clay, water drains through it quickly, meaning nutrients and inputs are prone to leaching. Crops readily uptake rainwater from sandy soils immediately following a storm, but it quickly moves below the root zone. This is especially challenging in drought conditions. To prevent excessive leaching of inputs, lower rates may be appropriate in sandy soils depending on the percentage of organic matter.

The key to improving both clay and sandy soils is the addition of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil structure by balancing its water and nutrient holding capacity with drainage ability. Stubble mulching in corn and soybean fields is 1 simple strategy to improve soil quality over time on large operations. Other strategies include using cover crops and soil amendments like manure or compost.

Loamy Soil

loamy soil type

Consisting of a combination of sand, clay, and organic matter, loamy soils are the best of both worlds. This soil type is medium-textured, rich in nutrients and easy to work with. The ideal soil for corn and soybeans is a loose, well-drained loam with high organic matter content. The same practices that improve sandy and clay soils can help to preserve the fertility and health of loamy soils.

When it comes to getting the most out of your inputs, it is vital that you understand the soil types on your farm and always follow the labeled rate instructions based on your soil texture and percentage of organic matter.

Regardless of soil type, the implementation of any soil management practices should be considered on a regional and site-specific basis. For more information about soil types in your area, reach out to your local Syngenta agronomist.

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All photos are either the property of Syngenta or are used with permission.