Assessing soil health in arable farms

In order to measure improvements in soil health over the next six years at Strategic Cereal Farm Scotland, we are gathering data to assess the current status of the soil.

Why baseline soil health data?

  • Start: November 2020                                 
  • End: March 2021


To gather baseline soil biology, chemistry and physics data as an indicator of soil health on fields which will be used for trials during the course of the Strategic Farm project.

The purpose of soil health baselining is to gather data at the outset of the Strategic Farm trials. It will determine the status of the soil, as well as measure change over time, as the baselining will be repeated in year three and year six of the project.

We fund an extensive programme of research and knowledge exchange on soil management. In 2017, AHDB and BBRO funded a five-year Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership. The Partnership is a cross-sector programme of research and knowledge exchange designed to help farmers and growers maintain and improve the productivity of UK agricultural and horticultural systems, through better understanding of soil biology and soil health.

An outcome of this research was a scorecard which provides an indication of soil health using a traffic light system to score selected soil health indicators.

How we assess soil health

The soil health scorecard is being completed on eight fields, measuring:

  • Loss on ignition (DUMAS) as an indication of soil organic matter,

  • pH

  • Extractable phosphorus (modified Morgans)

  • Extactable potassium

  • Extractable magnesium

Five fields are having additional measures taken on multiple zones within the field:

  • Visual evaluation of soil structure (VESS)

  • Respiation (solvita test)

  • Moisture holding capacity

  • Infiltration rates

  • Penetrometer resistance

  • Bulk density

At harvest, the farm will collect combine yield data for SRUC to analyse.

Useful resources

Soil health baseline trial - Strategic Cereal Farm East

Soil health baseline trial - Strategic Cereal Farm West

GREATsoils: resources and research

Soil biology and soil health partnership

Testing the soil health scorecard

Our Strategic Farms are an opportunity to see how to use our research on a commercial farm. Find out more about our Strategic Cereal Farm Scotland programme. 

Image of staff member Chris Leslie

Chris Leslie

Knowledge Exchange Manager – Cereals & Oilseeds