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:
- loss of soil biodiversity
- soil organic carbon loss
- nutrient imbalance
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.