Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The most important place to start...the soil

Soil is one of the most important assets farmers have. It is dynamic and unique in each field. Ultimately the health of the soil underpins the health of the pasture and livestock.

Maintaining healthy grassland soils, by improving soil structure and conserving biological activity, will support better plant growth, forage quality and thus profits. It can also minimise the negative impact on the environment which can follow poor soil management.

In March the new Healthy Grassland Soils online resource was launched to promote the tools that are available to farmers with regard to soil. The resource highlights the importance of soil fertility, its structure and the life beneath the surface.

Farm management practices can both help and hinder the biological processes happening in the soil which is why it is so important for farmers to know what’s going on.

Soil fertility
The fertility of the soil can be tested really easily but farmers must make sure that soil samples are taken correctly in order for it to be a true reflection of the field. The results will determine the applications required and the RB209 manual can assist farmers in calculating this.

Soil structure
The pore space in soil controls the balance of oxygen and water available to plant roots and soil organisms. Clay soils usually have more small pores than sandy soils that and can hold on to more water for longer. Soil structure depends on how the mineral particles are aggregated together with soil organic matter.

Assessing the soil structure can be really quick and easy. The new Grassland Soils Guide details this in four steps and explains how to score the soil. A farmer just needs the guide (download it now), a spade and a plastic sheet or tray in order to analyse their soil.
Life beneath the surface
Soil organisms are hugely diverse and play a range of critical roles in most soil processes.  Soil biota is a collective term for all these living organisms, excluding plant roots, and is sometimes simply called soil life.

In grassland systems, soil life forms an intricate food web which gets energy from inputs of carbon to the soil in organic matter through plant roots, crop residues and livestock excreta. It also powers nitrogen fixation and drives nutrient cycling (phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur) so that they’re available to the plant.

The soil life stabilises soil structure and allows the soil to absorb intense rainfall through an open pore network.

There are plenty of ways for farmers to optimise their soil from using organic matter, to aerating to preventative measures such as strip grazing, networks of farm tracks and stocking densities. And the advice on which is best is available in one place – www.healthygrasslandsoils.co.uk

Resources you might find useful...

Healthy Grassland Soils Pocketbook – Email brp@eblex.ahdb.org.uk and the team will send one to you

Grassland Soils Guide Download here

Sward stick - Email brp@eblex.ahdb.org.uk and the team will send one to you

Improving soils for Better ReturnsDownload here