Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Mae Smith
Big Horn County Extension 

A look at the importance of soil in our lives


Most of you are probably unaware that 2015 is the International Year of Soils. This was declared by the 68th UN General Assembly. Since we are already in September, we better get celebrating!

It is no wonder that this year was dedicated to soil because of its importance in every aspect of our lives.

The dirt on dir… uh.. soil:

—95 percent of our food is directly or indirectly produced in soil.

—Soil hosts a quarter of our planet’s biodiversity.

—There are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoonful of soil than there are people on earth.

—It can take up to 1000 years to form 1cm of soil.

Soil Organic Matter

If you were to describe really good soil, descriptions might include dark, crumbly, damp, smells like earth and full of organisms like worms.

Organic matter — directly tied to soil health — is everything in the soil that once lived. It acts as a sink and source of nutrients and carbon, improves air and water movement, reduces erosion and compaction, feeds soil microorganisms, and holds soil particles together. Organic matter makes the soil dark, crumbly, damp, earthy smelling and full of organisms! It can be increased with more plant and root production, leaving plant residue, decreasing disturbance like tilling and slowing decomposition.

Soil Texture

Texture is an important term in soil knowledge. It influences water movement into and through soil, nutrient retention, and plants that can be supported. Different size particles make up soil. Sand is the largest and feels gritty, silt is moderate-sized and feels smooth or floury in texture and clay is the smallest and feels sticky. An equal mix of these particles is called “loam” and is favorable for growing.

Name Size (millimeters)

Clay less than 0.002 mm

Silt 0.002 to 0.05mm

Sand 0.05 to 2mm

Gravel 2-75mm

Rock greater than 75mm

Our Rangeland Soils

Soils in the Big Horn Basin can be any of the soil textures — from sand to really sticky clay and everything in between. The rangeland soils are typically fragile and prone to erosion. Because of the limited precipitation, plant production is low and, therefore, so is organic matter. Other soil factors that limit suitability for plant production include high sodium and salts, nutrient deficiencies and shallow depth for roots. It can be a pretty tough place out there for plants but many are Wyoming tough and adapted to harsh conditions. And it’s a good thing because those plants are holding and building the soil!


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