managing soil in practice

You can only know if the soil is right for the slit aerator (or if you’ll do more harm than good) by taking out a spade and looking; phoning an expert won’t give you the answer. Look out for relevant case studies and the results of scientific trials to guide your own designs.

Before you begin to make any assessment of soil properties or function (e.g. forage yield and quality), it is important to be clear about the question you want to answer.  The question will determine the best way to sample, how many samples to take and what kind of analysis you need.

For example:

If you want to know how much lime you need to apply to a field to maintain soil pH;

Then you need a soil sample for analysis that is representative of the whole field to rooting depth – the usual method is to walk a W and bulk a number of small soil samples (0-15 cm) together, mix them and then send a sub-sample away for analysis.

If you want to know why a field is giving fewer grazing days than other fields on the farm;

Then you will need to compare any measurements (physical, chemical or biological) you take for this field to other fields on the farm. Ideally the comparison will be with another field with similar slope, soil type etc as these factors will also affect grazing days but can’t be changed through management. Try and collect the samples so that the information collected by a number of methods can be linked together – e.g. take samples for soil pH from soil pits where GRassland Soil Assessment is carried out and record worm numbers.

If you want to know whether a new management practice applied to a small area is giving benefits;

Then you will need to compare measurements (of forage or soil) you take for this area to other areas in the same field (or similarly managed fields).  When trying out a new practice it is good to test it on a small area or split field for at least one season, so that you can check that it works for you.

The following tools have been developed for this project or are recommended for on-farm use

Resources (as pdf or links)

  • GRassland Assessment of Soil Structure – Summary Sheet   (pdf)
  • GRassland Assessment of Soil Structure – Field Guide (pdf)
  • Squelch test – simple test of field moisture to determine risk of soil damage (pdf)
  • Determining soil texture – simple key to guide in-fied texture assessment (pdf)
  • Counting worms – a simple guide for observation in the field (pdf)
  • GRASS MOT
  • Simply Sustainable Soils

Also  - Field Studies Council. Guide to the Earthworms of Great Britain and Ireland. (Emma Sherlock). 2012.