Published by AMTEC on 15th Nov 2021
Improved soil health plays an important role on your farm
Improved soil health plays an important role on your farm – but you may not even realise that some of the things you do are negatively impacting it. The balance of organisms, nutrients, and moisture amongst other things are delicately balanced beneath your feet and need taking care of. We’re going to discuss soil management practices and how you can improve your soil health as part of moving towards regenerative agriculture best practices, and how this can help your farm be more sustainable for the future.
Soil health is measured by several different components. For example, pH and P levels are usually a reliable indicator of how your soil is doing. A comprehensive guide provided by Potash Development Association could be of use to you for checking your soils in the UK. This shows the nutrient levels in your soil and monitoring them can help improve soil health.
There are several other areas that improve soil health. You can find them listed below:
· Porousness – This is to allow water to move through the soil. This prevents plant matter from rotting and stops the production of methane gas in the absence of air.
· Aeration – As mentioned above, it’s important that the soil is aerated to prevent rotting in conditions that would produce methane gases. This also allows organisms to move through the soil, like earthworms.
· Soil organic matter - This is the organic matter found in soil. In correctly irrigated and porous enough soils, this can help to keep carbon in the ground.
· Fungal activity - Fungi help to break down organic matter in the soil releasing its nutrients into the ground.
· Compaction resistance – The correct infrastructure of soil can prevent compaction, which stops methane and carbon dioxide being produced. This is provided by living organic matter, like plants making roots.
· Protection from oxygen – When oxygen gets to organic matter, it reacts to produce carbon dioxide. Preventing this by keeping soil healthy reduces emissions.
· Crop residue - Turning crop residue back into the ground provides food for fungi and can help sequester carbon back into the soil.
· Nutrients - Nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are all nutrients that should be present in your soils. These are provided several ways, mostly through plant roots fixing them in the soils.
As you can see from the list above, soil health is complex and requires many different interwoven systems to be operating together in harmony. Many of the parts of healthy soil rely on one another, and so soil management for every aspect of your soil health is important.
Soil health can be damaged by many different traditional farming practices, and by improper soil management.
· Traditional ploughing can expose soil organic matter to oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide.
· Leaving fields bare and uncovered by crops or other plants increases soil erosion.
· Overuse of land can drain the nutrients, and without letting this recover land can become barren.
· Ignoring irrigation can leave fields waterlogged and therefore creates methane and can damage soil organic material.
· Working wet soils can increase compaction, meaning there is less aeration in soils and the soils are less porous for water to drain through.
There are several things you can do to prevent damaging your soils and to keep them in top condition for your crops. Regenerative agriculture in the UK focuses on putting as much back into the Earth as you take out of it. Keeping this main guiding principle in mind will help you to improve your soil health. Some specific actions you can take include:
· Shifting towards min-tilling and direct drilling instead of traditional ploughing techniques.
· Ensuring your crop rotation system includes cover crops, to help protect the fields you are not using from erosion.
· Incorporating crop residues can help to increase your organic soil matter, so turn stalks and leaves back into the soil after harvest.
· Using manure from livestock you have can provide nutrients and cover from rainfall to your soil.
· Reforestation is supported by some government grants in the UK. If your soil health is too poor for growing crops, consider reforesting it to improve the soil health, and to receive money from the government.
If you don’t have the agricultural equipment to carry out min-tilling or direct drilling to improve soil health, check out our range of used farm machinery today. We can help to provide you with the agricultural equipment you need to take vital steps towards securing the future of your soil and your land. We also have spreaders for manure application to protect your soils, and irrigation equipment to make sure they are properly irrigated to maximise on soil health - both excellent ways to improve your soil management practices.
Regenerative agriculture in the UK may be the way forward for many farms across the country trying to do their bit to reduce emissions from their business and to protect the countryside in which they work. Making efforts to be more environmentally conscious on your farm can help to safeguard the future for us all. If you have any questions about the equipment you need to start your regenerative farming journey, and to start to improve your soil health, please get in touch with us.
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