Monthly Archives :

October 2018

Know your Soils #10: Soil Test Calendar

1754 1240 Sectormentor for Soils

Welcome to the tenth instalment of our Know your Soils series sharing practical tips for monitoring the soil health on your land. Keep an eye out for our bitesize videos and fact sheets on simple tests you can do yourself on farm.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


When and how often should you do soil tests?

Soil test calendar created by the Sectormentor For Soils team

Taking the first steps on your soil monitoring journey involves some essential decision making! Firstly, which soil tests are right for your farm as well as when and where you are going to do them?

Certain tests are best done at certain times of year, and like most things in farming, this is due to the weather. On the calendar you can see the key soil tests, when and how often to do them. Choose a minimum of 3 of the key tests and ideally do them all on the same day.

Deciding when and how often to do the tests

Deciding which fields to test

If you want to get an overview of how your soil is doing choose fields which are managed differently, for example, one arable field, one permanent pasture, one herbal ley and so on.

A few farmers have wanted to better understand how soil changes across their rotation, or under cumulative years of a herbal ley. In both these cases, choose one field from each part of the cycle to look at how the soil changes over time.

If you are concerned about the performance of different fields choose to test a couple of your worst fields and a couple of your best and then try different management practices to improve the worst ones so they look more like the best.

Choose fields where you can experiment with different management practices and make changes, so that the results from your soil tests can inform what to do next. If you found poor soil on a field under a restrictive stewardship scheme it could be frustrating that you can’t do anything about it.

Most importantly, only choose as many fields as are manageable and which are easily accessible, ideally not too far from each other. Planning to test 3 fields and doing it is better than planning to test 6, feeling overwhelmed, and not doing any!

Where to do the tests on the field

As a basic rule you want to do each test a minimum of 3 times on each field to get a representative sample. It’s important to not do them too close to the edge of the field too. You can try walking a W in the field and doing your tests at points along it.

If you want to get the most accurate representative sample do 1 test every 8 acres in a field, but sticking to the rule of 3s is easier and will give you good results too!

 

Here is a PDF of the Soil Test Calendar which you can print

 


See our free online soils guide for soil tests you can do at home and find out how our app Sectormentor for Soils helps you record & learn how your soil is changing.

Soil Health – what’s it all about?

251 172 Sectormentor for Soils

This is the first in a series of blog posts from Jenni Dungait, our resident Soil Health Expert, on the scientific basis for soil tests.

 

Soil health is different from soil quality because it recognises the key role of soil biology as well as soil chemistry and soil physics. Getting soil health right can help farmers to produce food and look after the environment.

Farmers all over the world are starting to pay attention to what is going on beneath their feet. Knowledge of the value of ‘farming soil biology’ belowground is just as important as caring for the crops and livestock aboveground.

You can use the Sectormentor for Soils app to record changes in a range of soil health indicators.

If you start monitoring now, this could help get you set up and ready to meet the requirements of the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme in the new Agriculture Bill.

 

What are the signs that a soil is unhealthy?

We all know the symptoms of unhealthy soil:

  • erosion
  • compaction
  • sealing
  • waterlogging
  • contamination
  • acidification
  • loss of soil biodiversity
  • soil organic carbon loss
  • nutrient imbalance
  • salinization

The map on the right shows Relative Soil Health for the UK and Europe. The scale at the bottom shows the relative soil health score. You can see that much of the UK scores medium to poor. These soils will be showing one or more of the symptoms of unhealthy soil.

Fixing unhealthy soils is costly in terms of time and money, and may cause problems beyond the field boundaries, for example, by contaminating local waterways or emitting greenhouse gases and increasing the carbon footprint of your farm.

 

How healthy could my soil be?

Soils change from place to place, so don’t compare your soil between fields or with other farms.

Start by using a simple ‘Under the Hedge’ test (or Relative Soil Health) to see how healthy your soil could be.

Dig a spade of soil from your field and then another from nearby natural vegetation and compare them using the soil tests on the Sectormentor for Soils app.

 

I am very pleased to be working as an independent Soil Health Expert with Vidacycle to develop the Sectormentor for Soils app using my knowledge. Watch out for a series of blogs from me on the Vidacycle website in the coming months introducing the scientific basis for the individual soil health tests chosen for the Sectormentor for Soils app. If you have any questions you can email me directly at jenni@soilhealthexpert.com

Know your Soils #9: The plate meter

470 351 Sectormentor for Soils

Welcome to the ninth instalment of our Know your Soils series sharing practical tips for monitoring the soil health on your land. Keep an eye out for our bitesize videos and fact sheets on simple tests you can do yourself on farm.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


How to maintain productive grassland

Insights from Alex Heffron, Welsh farmer and regenerative agriculture enthusiast

Plate meters allow farmers to measure and monitor the volume of forage they have across their fields and farm. This is a very important tool for understanding how to maintain productive grassland and extend the grazing season.

We travel to Wales, to meet Alex Heffron, from Mountain Hall Farm, who produces Jersey raw milk and beef. He’s a first generation farmer, managing 13.5 acres of grazing and 100% pasture fed livestock. So you could say grass is his bread and butter!

Calculating forage volume is an essential tool for Alex to manage food supply for his animals while maintaining and improving grass and soil health. He regularly moves his cattle to new pasture using a Holistic Planned Grazing framework and mob grazing.

It’s time for you to meet Alex’s good friend, the plate meter:

Every time Alex moves animals to new pasture he takes a plate meter reading for that field so he can calculate how much grass is there, and when he should move them again to ensure optimum regrowth of the grass.

Plate meters measure the height and density of the sward. It takes the average height in compressed centimetres and converts it to kilos of dry matter per hectare using this equation: [average sward height] x 125 + 640 = [forage volume] kg DM/ha.

For example: if there’s 4000 kg DM/ha in Alex’s field and he aims to leave 2500 kg DM/ha to ensure grass regrowth, then there’s 1500 kg DM/ha to graze. If the field is 1 ha and there are 10 steers each weighing 400 kg which need to graze 80 kg DM/ha per day, they will last 5 days in that field.

How to take a plate meter reading

The same calculation could be worked out with a sward stick (a sort of paper ruler), but Alex finds using a plate meter less time consuming and more accurate. Manual and electronic plate meters go by a many names: PLATE meters, pasture meters, rising plate meters, falling plate meters. They are all in fact measuring pretty much the same thing.

By plate metering and moving his livestock around different grazing areas Alex maintains a good supply of grass, giving it time to regrow. He uses the Sectormentor For Soils app to record plate meter readings and observations, tracking how his forage and fields change and develop with different farm management practises.

“The advantage of using Sectormentor is that it’s an easy and convenient way to record and keep that information handy. It will be interesting to analyse each year the levels of growth and speed of re-growth. It’s another way that I can assess if our management is improving our grazing.”

Even better, taking a plate meter out is another good reason to walk around the fields and visually assess grassland. Alex observes forage diversity, grass condition, trampling, manure quality (indication of rumen health), and how wet or dry the ground is. This observational library is central to continued learning and the evolution of Alex’s farming practises.

Plate metering can be used in different pasture management contexts other than 100% grass fed too. Taking readings across a whole farm gives an overall picture of forage volumes and if there is any grassland underperforming. It’s important not to let the volume drop too much as winter approaches, otherwise grass growth rates will be low in the spring.

 

Resources

Using a plate meter – AHDB Dairy

Expert Guidance on using a plate meter – Farmers Weekly


See our free online soils guide for soil tests you can do at home and find out how our app Sectormentor for Soils helps you record & learn how your soil is changing.