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Getting the measure of soil health

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A newly-launched soil assessment service will help growers identify practical measures that can be taken to boost crop productivity.

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Whether to capitalise on future Government funding or simply to maximise crop productivity, soil health is likely to be high on the agenda for many growers looking to stay profitable in a post-Brexit era. But while improving soil health is a key priority for the farming industry, measuring it can be a challenge, which is why Hutchinsons has recently launched its new Healthy Soils assessment.

 

The assessment, which is being offered to farmers across the country, involves measuring key soil health indicators including soil structure, earthworm populations, infiltration rates and soil texture – all of which help inform management decisions.

 

Hutchinsons nutritional development manager, Andy Hoyles says: “It is now widely accepted good soil health is fundamental to agricultural productivity and sustainability, and in order to get the most from our soils we need to be able to measure and monitor soil health.

 

“Given what we have heard from Government about the future of BPS payments, it is looking likely soil health will be high on the Government agenda. This will require some form of benchmarking so growers should try and be one step ahead and start an auditable trail now to demonstrate soil improvement measures.”

Setting itself apart from the ‘standard’ soil test which quantifies soil nutrient levels and pH, the Healthy Soils assessment is much more comprehensive, according to Dick Neale, Hutchinsons technical manager.

 

He says: “One of the first things we will do is look at the mixture of soils present, which gives us information on whether drainage is impeded or natural, the soil fertility levels and natural pH.

 

“Measuring for nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and pH is nowhere near comprehensive enough for us to figure out what is going on in the soil and how it could be managed differently so we have added things like the cation exchange capacity, which gives us an indication of how much nutrition the soil can hold.

 

“We also measure the sand, silt and clay content of the soil which means we can accurately say what the soil type is and how that might affect how it reacts to different management practices.”

 

As well as the chemical and physical composition of the soil, Mr Neale says it is important to understand the soil biology.

 

“We measure the amount of earthworms within the soil and the proportion of epigeic, endogenic and anecic earthworms because each of these different types do a different job for us.”

 

To get the most accurate representation of the health status of a particular soil, Mr Neale says it is important to assess soils when there is adequate moisture in the ground, which is typically between March and April.

 

He says: “Many people test soils post-harvest, but often soils are too dry and it is difficult to make accurate assessments of soil structure. Also, when there is not a crop in the ground, you cannot assess the impact roots are having within the soil profile. Worms are also less active during this time of year so it is crucial to assess soils at the right time to get the most from the service.”

Sponsored Article

Soil audit report

Soil audit report

Following the assessment customers receive a soil audit report, which includes:

  • Cropping and cultivations review - key soil/field features picked up by aerial images
  • VESS Test – visual evaluation of soil structure to one metre depth
  • Infiltration assessment – ability of water to permeate through the soil profile indicating any issues with structure or capping
  • Solvita CO2 burst test – a measure of the amount of biological activity within the soil
  • Texture test – the composition of sand, silt and clay
  • Key organisms and earthworm populations
  • pH and soil nutrients (macro and micro) – assessments at the soil surface, 150mm depth and 300mm depth. Both the total amount of nutrients and readily available nutrients are measured.
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