To farm sustainably, it is essential to understand a soil’s physical structure as well as its nutrient and biological status. The simple set of routine assessments described below will help you understand your soils better, and identify where improvements can be made.
Why test soils?
To achieve optimum economic yields, crops must acquire sufficient nutrients and water from the soil via the roots. It is important to maintain good soil structure, nutrient status and a good balance of soil biology, so that plant growth is not adversely affected by poor soil conditions.
Taking time to thoroughly assess soils – and implement a management plan based on results – is fundamental to achieving better land management, which supports profitable farming and helps protect the environment.
Soil assessments are also increasingly expected throughout the UK to comply with regulation and access incentives. For example, Farming Rules for Water in England and General Binding Rules in Scotland require soil samples to be collected in order that a nutrient management plan can be created. A range of soil assessments may also be required for environmental land management schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive in England.
Soil testing strategy
Soil properties can vary considerably within the field and at different depths. Conditions can also vary through the year depending on the weather and land management. A rotational strategy for soil testing can help measure and monitor the impacts of soil management approaches.
Types of soil test
Soil tests are divided into three main types: tests of soil physical, chemical and biological parameters. They range from simple to more complex. Soil texture, levels of organic matter, and other characteristics of the soil types occurring on a farm should be known and documented.
Soil management zones
Soil variability is one of the main factors determining differences in crop growth. Using survey techniques to understand the underlying spatial variation in soil physical characteristics is an important first step towards more consistent crop growth.