Healthy Soils – The Key to Unlocking Yield AAF

Posted on

Article from Agronomist and Arable Farmer – April 2018

A focus on Healthy Soils and the impact it can have on crop performance is nothing new for Hutchinsons. Over eight years ago work at the Brampton centre for black-grass excellence explored the correlation between soil structure and management and weed control.

This work led the way for cultural methods of black-grass control that are now common practices on many of the UK’s arable farms bringing with it considerable crop performance benefits.

It is now widely accepted that good soil health is fundamental to agricultural productivity and sustainability, and in order to actively manage soil resources for optimum crop performance, it is vital to be able to measure and monitor soil health, and this is where our bespoke Healthy Soils assessment comes into play, explains Andy Hoyles, Hutchinsons nutritional development manager.

It’s also looking likely that Healthy Soils will be high on the government agenda as we head into an era of potential change to subsidies, and this will require some form of benchmarking, so growers should take the advantage of  being one step ahead of the game and start an auditable trail now in order to demonstrate soil improvement measures.”

Larger farms, less labour and machinery that lets us work fields all year around, have resulted in a culture of increasing and unnecessary cultivations – all of which lends itself to poor soil structure and health, and to fix this growers really need to understand the science of what is happening in their soils, says Hutchinsons Healthy Soils expert, Dick Neale.

 “This is the approach that we take with our Healthy Soils assessment which differentiates it from other similarly branded services–we get down into the nitty gritty of what is happening in the soils  - its not about dragging a soil scanning machine with a quad bike over larger areas.”

The Hutchinsons Healthy Soils audit is a hands-on trained specialist practical and scientific assessment (not standard sample) that provides an understanding of the soil baseline and aims to improve the soil throughout the rotation through a programmed approach.

  • Cropping and Cultivations review – crop rotations, cultivations, drainage. Key soil/field features picked up by aerial images.
  • Vess Test –visual evaluation of soil structure to 1m depth.
  • Infiltration Asessment – ability of water to permeate through soil profile indicating any issues with structure, capping etc.
  • Soil Health & Texture test - sand, silt and clay composition, while soil health is assessed using techniques such as the Solvita C02 burst test.
  • Key organisms & earthworm populations
  • pH & macro & micro nutrients of total and available nutrients- 3 assessments at soil surface, 150mm and 300mm depths

When should a Healthy Soils audit be carried out?

Dick Neale points out the importance of having a healthy assessment at the right time. “The key time to have soils tested is March – April, as this is when the soils are moist and biologically active, allowing for worm numbers to be measured etc.”

“If soils are tested post-harvest they are usually too dry, and not representative of their real status. Many worms are inactive then and also without a crop in the ground it’s not possible to see the impact of some roots.”

So how can this information help to improve yield potential?

A Healthy Soils audit looks at all of these components and using Hutchinsons precision agronomy software Omnia, links the information to yield potential. Based on the information gathered, Omnia analyses the local field data and information alongside regional information to calculate a theoretical potential yield that should be achievable.