Soil is agriculture’s most valuable asset and looking after it is vital for food production.
After years of being taken for granted, the quality of much of our crop-growing soil is in decline, leaving many fields unable to provide the optimum growing conditions for today’s high-yielding crops. Couple this with the further damage caused by using heavy machinery, often in far from ideal weather conditions, and it is unsurprising that improving poor soil quality is now high on many agenda.
Correcting organic matter, the lifeblood of soil, is a long-term process which can take between five and 15 years depending upon the state of the soil. While the complete improvement process is not a quick one, it doesn't take long for some positive signs to emerge.
Steps to improve soil include:
- Testing for organic matter every few years which allows growers to assess whether or not the content is falling and if so to start managing it.
- It is possible to identify areas of compaction and anaerobic soil simply by digging holes with a spade. Correction measures such as sub soiling and improving the drainage can then be applied to the areas most in need.
- Regular applications of farmyard manure which will help restore organic matter.
Longer-term management is then vital to produce and maintain a healthy, aerated, well-drained soil. Reduced cultivations or even zero-till will help with compaction as well as encouraging worm numbers to rebuild.
More recently, cover crops are playing their part in improving soil quality and they need not be expensive.