Types of Soils in India

Soil is a complex and dynamic mixture of minerals, organic matter, water, and air that covers the Earth’s land surface. It provides the medium in which plants grow, plays a crucial role in supporting ecosystems, and serves as a vital resource for agriculture, construction, and various human activities. Soil forms through the weathering of rocks and minerals over long periods of time, as well as the decomposition of organic materials like plants and animals. 

Soil Classification:

Soil classification is the process of categorizing soils based on their physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties. There are various classification systems used globally, with the most widely recognized being the Soil Taxonomy by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Soil Taxonomy system classifies soils into hierarchical categories based on certain characteristics. The classification includes six levels, from broad to specific:

  1. Order: This is the highest level of classification, and it groups soils based on major differences in soil-forming processes and characteristics. Examples of soil orders include Entisols (recently formed soils), Inceptisols (developing soils), and Aridisols (desert soils).
  2. Suborder: Suborders provide further detail about specific soil-forming processes or conditions. For example, different suborders of Aridisols might be based on variations in moisture regime or mineral content.
  3. Great Group: This level focuses on properties like horizons (distinct layers in a soil profile) and other features. Different great groups within a suborder might have variations in horizon characteristics.
  4. Subgroup: Subgroups further refine the classification by considering factors like moisture, temperature, and mineral content. They help distinguish soils with similar properties within a great group.
  5. Family: Families categorize soils based on specific features, such as particle size distribution or mineralogy. This level of classification provides more detailed information about the soil’s characteristics.
  6. Series: The series is the most specific level of classification and refers to individual soil profiles that share similar properties and characteristics. It’s often named after a prominent geographic location where the soil is found.

It’s important to note that soil classification can vary based on regional factors and local needs. Other classification systems used globally include the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB) developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Classification of Soils in India

In ancient times, soils were divided into two primary groups – Urvara and Usara, denoting fertile and sterile soils respectively. These traditional terms are still in use in certain rural regions.

During the 16th century A.D., soil classification was based on intrinsic attributes and observable features. Soil types were differentiated based on texture, leading to categories such as sand, clay, silt, and loam. Color was another distinguishing factor, with soils being classified as red, yellow, black, etc.

The inception of the Soil Survey of India in 1956 marked the establishment of an institution responsible for soil health maintenance in India.

Classifications of Soils in India

Soils in India have been generally categorized based on color, composition, and location into the following types:

  1. Alluvial Soils
  2. Black Soils
  3. Red and Yellow Soils
  4. Laterite Soils
  5. Arid Soils
  6. Saline Soils
  7. Peaty and Marshy Soils 
  8. Forest Soils

Description of Each Soil Type

Alluvial Soil:

  • Covers approximately 43% of India’s land area, predominantly in the northern plains and river valleys.
  • Abundant in the Indus-Ganga-Brahmaputra plain, Narmada-Tapi plain, and other regions.
  • Rich in humus, lime, and organic matter, making it highly fertile. 
  • Classified into new alluvium (Khadar) and old alluvium (Bhangar).
  • Mainly used for cultivating wheat, rice, maize, sugarcane, pulses, and oilseeds.
  • Texture varies from sandy to silty loam or clay.
  • Color: Light Grey to Ash Grey.

Red and Yellow Soil:

  • Found in low rainfall areas.
  • Characterized by a porous and friable structure.
  • Deficient in lime, phosphate, manganese, nitrogen, humus, and potash.
  • Color: Red due to Ferric oxide, lower layer is reddish yellow or yellow.
  • Used for crops like wheat, cotton, pulses, tobacco, and oilseeds.
  • Texture varies from sandy to clay and loamy.

Black Soil / Regur Soil:

  • Occupies much of the Deccan plateau. 
  • Known for high water retention and fertility.
  • Self-ploughing due to its ability to develop wide cracks when dried.
  • Rich in iron, lime, calcium, potassium, aluminum, and magnesium.
  • Deficient in nitrogen, phosphorous, and organic matter.
  • Color: Deep black to light black.
  • Ideal for cotton cultivation, among other crops.

Laterite Soil:

  • Named after the Latin word ‘Later,’ meaning brick.
  • Found in high-temperature and high-rainfall regions.
  • Result of intense leaching, leading to loss of lime and silica.
  • Low in humus due to rapid decomposition caused by high temperatures and fast uptake by plants.
  • Rich in iron and aluminum, deficient in nitrogen, potash, potassium, lime, and humus.
  • Color: Red due to iron oxide.

Desert / Arid Soil:

  • Occurs in arid and semi-arid regions. 
  • Deposited by wind activities.
  • High salt content and poor in moisture and humus.
  • High presence of impure calcium carbonate (kankar) restricts water infiltration.
  • Texture: Sandy.
  • Color: Red to Brown.

Peaty Soil:

  • Found in areas with ample rainfall and vegetation growth.
  • High accumulation of dead organic matter leads to rich humus content.
  • Organic matter content can reach 40-50%.
  • Commonly heavy and black, occasionally salty.
  • Occurs in northern Bihar, southern Uttaranchal, and waterfront areas of West Bengal, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.

Forest Soil:

  • Develops in forested regions with sufficient rainfall.
  • Varies from loamy and silty on valley sides to grainy on higher inclines.
  • Snow-isolated Himalayan regions exhibit denudation and acidity with low humus content.
  • Lower valleys have richer soils.

Mountain Soil:

  • Found in mountainous regions.
  • Immature soil with low humus content and acidity.

Soil Erosion and Its Prominent Causes

Soil erosion refers to the process by which soil particles are dislodged and transported from one location to another, often due to the actions of wind, water, or human activities. Erosion can have significant negative impacts on soil quality, agricultural productivity, water quality, and ecosystem health. Understanding its causes is crucial for implementing effective erosion control measures.

Prominent Causes of Soil Erosion:

  1. Water Erosion: 
    • Raindrop Erosion: The impact of raindrops on bare soil can detach and displace soil particles.
    • Sheet Erosion: Thin layers of soil are uniformly removed across a large area due to flowing water.
    • Rill Erosion: Small channels are formed as water concentrates in specific paths, leading to slightly deeper erosion.
    • Gully Erosion: Continuous rill erosion can develop into gullies, deepening and widening the channels.
  2. Wind Erosion:
    • Deflation: Wind removes loose, fine particles from the soil surface.
    • Abrasion: Wind-blown particles strike and erode larger soil aggregates, breaking them down into smaller particles.
    • Saltation: Larger soil particles bounce along the surface, causing erosion and transporting particles.
  3. Human Activities:
    • Deforestation: Removal of vegetation reduces root systems that stabilize soil and protect it from erosive forces.
    • Overgrazing: Excessive grazing by livestock reduces vegetation cover, making soil more vulnerable to erosion.
    • Unsustainable Farming Practices: Poor land management, such as plowing steep slopes, improper irrigation, and leaving fields bare after harvesting, can accelerate erosion.
    • Construction and Mining: Excavations and construction activities disturb the soil, increasing its susceptibility to erosion.
    • Urbanization: Paved surfaces and altered drainage patterns can lead to increased runoff and erosion.
  4. Natural Factors:
    • Steep Terrain: Sloped landscapes are more prone to erosion due to the force of gravity on soil particles.
    • Climate: Intense rainfall, strong winds, and prolonged dry spells can exacerbate erosion.
    • Soil Composition: Soils with low organic matter content or lacking cohesive properties are more susceptible to erosion.
  5. Lack of Vegetation Cover:
    • Plants, trees, and other vegetation play a crucial role in anchoring soil with their root systems, preventing erosion by wind and water.
    • Deforestation, urbanization, and land degradation can lead to reduced vegetation cover, making soil more prone to erosion.
  6. Improper Land Management:
    • Improper plowing, inadequate crop rotation, and poor soil conservation practices can degrade soil structure and increase erosion risk.
  7. Poor Drainage Systems:
    • Improperly designed or maintained drainage systems can lead to waterlogging and increased surface runoff, promoting erosion.
  8. Loss of Soil Organic Matter:
    • Soil organic matter enhances soil structure and stability. Practices that lead to the loss of organic matter, such as intensive tilling and excessive chemical use, can increase erosion risk.

Soil Conservation and Its Methods

Soil conservation refers to the various strategies and techniques aimed at preventing soil erosion, maintaining soil fertility, and promoting sustainable land use practices. Effective soil conservation is vital to ensure the long-term productivity of agricultural lands, protect natural ecosystems, and mitigate environmental degradation. Here are some key methods used for soil conservation:

  1. Terracing: Terracing involves creating level platforms on steep slopes to slow down the flow of water, allowing it to infiltrate into the soil and reducing erosion. This method is particularly useful in hilly regions where traditional farming practices could lead to significant erosion.
  2. Contour Farming: In contour farming, crops are planted along the natural contours of the land rather than on straight rows. This helps to break the flow of water downhill, reducing its erosive power and promoting water infiltration.
  3. Strip Cropping: Strip cropping involves planting different crops in alternating strips. The crops with good ground cover help to stabilize the soil and reduce erosion, while the alternating strips provide diversity and prevent the spread of pests. 
  4. Cover Crops: Planting cover crops, also known as green manure, involves growing crops specifically for the purpose of protecting and improving the soil. These crops cover the soil, reduce erosion, and add organic matter when they are later incorporated into the soil.
  5. Mulching: Mulching involves covering the soil with a layer of organic or inorganic material to protect it from the impact of raindrops and reduce water runoff. Mulch also helps retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature.
  6. Conservation Tillage: Conservation tillage techniques involve minimizing or eliminating traditional plowing and tilling methods, which can disrupt soil structure and increase erosion. No-till and reduced-till practices help maintain soil structure and reduce soil disturbance.
  7. Agroforestry: Agroforestry combines trees with agricultural crops, allowing trees to serve as windbreaks, reduce water runoff, and improve soil structure. The tree roots also stabilize the soil and enhance organic matter content.
  8. Windbreaks and Shelterbelts: Planting rows of trees or shrubs along the edges of fields or in areas prone to wind erosion helps reduce the impact of strong winds and prevent soil displacement.
  9. Erosion-Control Structures: Structures like silt fences, check dams, and gabions are installed in vulnerable areas to slow down water flow, trap sediment, and prevent soil from being carried away.
  10. Soil Management Practices: Proper soil management practices, such as maintaining appropriate crop rotations, using organic and sustainable farming practices, and adopting balanced fertilization, can improve soil health and reduce erosion.
  11. Reforestation and Afforestation: Planting trees on deforested or degraded land (reforestation) and creating new forests (afforestation) help establish stable ecosystems that prevent soil erosion and promote biodiversity.
  12. Education and Outreach: Raising awareness about the importance of soil conservation and promoting sustainable land use practices among farmers, communities, and policymakers is essential for achieving long-term soil protection.

Combining these methods based on local conditions and the specific challenges of each area is essential for effective soil conservation. A holistic approach that considers soil health, vegetation cover, water management, and sustainable land use practices can contribute to the preservation of soil resources for current and future generations.

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