Why is Soil Health Important?
As an irreplaceable, physical resource, it is essential to protect and nurture our soils if we are to continue producing crops under the current agricultural model.
Healthy soil is more resilient to harsh conditions such as drier summers and wetter winters and helps to increase crop yields, lock up Carbon and optimise production.
To make the process of improving soil health as accessible as possible we present the Healthy Soils service, providing essential information to growers and agronomists to actively manage soil resources and optimise crop performance.
How does the Healthy Soils Assessment help me?
Using in-field and laboratory science, our detailed analysis sets out key recommendations and advice on a field by field basis to improve your soil’s health for long term benefits to productivity and sustainability.
The findings of your Healthy Soils assessment will be delivered in a bespoke report detailing the findings of your soil audit. The agronomist’s experience and your historical farm knowledge are then used together to define personally tailored key action plans to remedy any issues which are identified in your soils.
A critical part of action plans produced by the Healthy Soils assessment is to modify farm practices to allow soil organic matter to build, fauna and flora to flourish (especially earthworms) and increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil.
We analyse three key components:
Texture, bulk density, compaction/pans and water infiltration
The physical properties of a soil are determined by the balance between sand, silt and clay particles, which results in texture and these particles combine with organic matter to form soil aggregates. The size and distribution of these aggregates determines soil structure, which directly affects the movement of air and water through the soil profile, which in turn affects biological activity, root development, crop establishment and tolerance to environmental stress.
Soil organic matter and “soil-life” including carbon content and activity
During its conversion from plant and animal residues to humus, soil organic matter has a direct impact on soil health. Fresh organic material provides a food source for macro-organisms such as earthworms, which mix partially decomposed organic matter with minerals as it passes through them, creating channels for air and water movement in the process. Microbes thrive in worm casts converting organic matter to available nutrients and humus. This results in increased soil fertility and yield potential. Humus also provides a long-term source of energy and nutrients for beneficial fungi and bacteria.
Presence of minerals/nutrients in the soil, plus availability for plant uptake including nutrient-cycling
The impact soil chemistry has on the development of plant microbe interactions is particularly important. For example, limestone soils tend to be rich in calcium and be alkaline, so restricting the uptake of phosphorus and manganese. This can reduce root mass and limit root exudate production, reducing both microbial activity and response to microbial growth promotion. Soil chemical properties also regulate microbial growth rates directly through nutrient availability and will affect the rate at which microbes release available nutrients.
Key soil information contained in the Soil Audit Report:
A detailed Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure conducted through the soil profile and recorded in detail with photographs. Where possible the soil structure will be assessed to 1m depth.
The ability for the soil to allow water to permeate through the profile is measured and categorised – revealing any issues with soil structure, capping and impermeable horizons in the profile.
Assessment of current practices with historical use of the land, crop rotations, cultivation regime and in-field drainage. Aerial images will also be used to show key field/soil features.
A full soil texture assessment is conducted to determine sand, silt and clay composition, while soil health is assessed using techniques such as the Solvita CO2 burst test.
The soil pH profile is assessed on 3 horizons – at the soil surface, ~ 150mm depth and at 300mm depth. Soil samples are taken for laboratory assessment of the key macro and micro nutrients.
The soil population of key organisms (principally earthworms) is assessed to show the numbers of Epigeic, Endogeic and Anecic worms within the top 200mm of the soil profile.
Based on the information gathered, Omnia precision software analyses the local field data and information alongside regional information to calculate a theoretical potential yield that should be achievable. The variance between the potential yield and what is actually currently being achieved can then be explored to identify what are the critical limiting factors which need to be addressed.