Soil structure

Soil structure is the architecture of the soil. It is usually described by the size, shape, and stability of units (called aggregates, crumbs, blocks or peds) in which the particles (sand, silt, clay, and organic matter) of the soil are held together.

Importance of good soil structure

Crop growth relies on good soil aeration (for respiration), drainage, and the efficient supply of nutrients and water.

Soil drainage (how quickly water drains from the land) is determined by soil texture and soil structure. Well-structured sandy and light silty soils tend to drain more quickly than medium-textured soils, and medium soils more rapidly than heavy soils.

However, if the soil is compacted, drainage can be slow, irrespective of the soil texture.

Benefits of good soil structure

Better structured soils:

  • Are less prone to erosion and surface run-off
  • Increase opportunities to access land and the duration of the cultivation window (improved timeliness)
  • Reduce irrigation costs
  • Reduce tillage costs (in terms of tractor hours, number of passes, and size of tractor and implements required)
  • Can improve the uniformity and overall yield of commercial crops

Soil porosity and structure

Biological interactions in the topsoil help maintain soil structure in the rooting zone. It is important to maintain good air-filled porosity.

Read more about soil porosity and what influences topsoil and subsoil structure

Impacts of poor soil structure

Poorly structured or compacted soils reduce water infiltration and can lead to surface run-off and erosion.

Find out how compaction impacts the efficiency and economics of production

Fundamental moisture principles of soil

Soil moisture should be assessed before cultivations to avoid structural damage. 

Learn how to do a ribbon test to assess soil moisture

Useful links

Environment Agency guide to soil: Think soils

Learn about GREATsoils

Read the Principles of soil management guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of Principles of soil management, please contact publications@ahdb.org.uk or call 0247 799 0069

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Amanda Bennett

Senior Environment Manager (Soil Health & RB209)

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