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Improving the quality of soil health is not just good for your farm, but it’s equally good for the wider environment.  In this article, we take a look at what we mean by ‘soil health’ and how we can improve it throughout the seasons.

“Soil health is a state of a soil meeting its range of ecosystem functions as appropriate to its environment”. (Wikipedia)

It stands to reason then, that the better the soil health on farms, the better the crop they will yield. 

Optimal soil health is dependent on the following:

  1. Reduction in soil erosion – basically, stop it from blowing away
  2. Reduction in soil compaction – nothing grows in compacted soil
  3. Increase in aeration – to keep the soil aerobic
  4. Increase drainage – so that crops don’t drown
  5. Containing carbon emissions – in the ground and not in the air
  6. Increasing nutrients and organic matter – to help grow healthy crops

What we can do throughout the seasons to improve soil health on farms

Winter months

Wind erosion in bare soil can cause damage to the structure its structure.  By putting buffer strips on field margins, we can significantly reduce the damage caused by the wind in the winter months and thus protect the soil.

Livestock could be housed indoors during the winter.  This will also reduce soil erosion.  By rotating animal crops, we can maintain soil fertility, replenish soil nutrients, control weed growth and reduce the amount of pest and disease issues.

Spring months

The spreading of slurry and organic manure will reduce the need for artificial fertilizers that are harmful to the environment.  It will also increase the amount of organic matter in the soil which in turn, encourages earthworms. Earthworms are a crucial component of healthy soil.  Firstly, they improve the aeration and drainage of the soil through their burrows.  Secondly, they promote the aggregation of the soil, helping to give the soil structure.  Without aggregate, the soil wouldn’t be able to stick together, it would be lifeless and nothing would be able to grow in it.

So, anything we can do to encourage earthworms, the better.  All praise to the earthworm!

Cow tracks and multiple gated entry points

What we’re trying to do here is to reduce compaction of the soil.  Compacted soil is difficult for crops and plants to grow in because it’s less aerated and doesn’t possess great drainage qualities.  By using multiple gated entry points for cattle, we’re not compacting the same soil every day.

Aeration of grassland soil.  This can benefit the soil by improving drainage and keeps the soil aerobic.

Summer months

Summer is a busy time for farmers.  These months are the time for harvesting crops and preparing the soil for the next planting season. 

When harvesting takes place, it may be prudent to control the amount of heavy machinery on the land, such as tractors and combines because they all produce some soil compaction.  Reducing the tyre pressures can help reduce this, so it’s worth a thought!

Straw chopping can help to increase the organic matter content in the soil, which in turn will help next years’ crops get off to a good start!

Autumn months

Autumn is a month for planting ‘cover’ crops to prevent post-harvest soil erosion.  Cover crops are planted to cover the soil rather than for their purpose of being harvested. They also manage soil structure, infiltration, drainage , weeds, pests, disease and support wildlife. 

Direct seed drilling of winter crops will reduce the need for tillage of the soil.  A seed drill will deposit the new crops in predefined spaces and depths without having to disturb the soil.  The less we can disturb this living, organic, very important contribution to the environment, the better!

Finally, did you know that 62% of agricultural land remains grassland and meadow.  This is a really important factor when considering the environment because these meandering fields actually act as carbon storage bunkers that lock in harmful greenhouse gasses. 

We are King Agriculture – agricultural contractors and farmers in Gloucestershire for over 35 years.  We are passionate about achieving a sustainable future for farming through innovation and efficiency.  Take a look at our website for more information