Farmers encouraged to adopt ‘do it yourselves’ approach to soil testing


Farmers encouraged to adopt ‘do it yourselves’ approach to soil testing

Farmers will be advised to get into DIY when it comes to the health of their soils at an upcoming GREATsoils meeting in East Lothian on 16 November.


The event – Soil health - measuring, monitoring and managing – will outline the key findings from the GREATsoils programme, which has been funded by AHDB Horticulture to inspire and support growers to assess and manage the health of their soils.


GREATsoils is part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence Platform, and is focused on helping businesses drive productivity, through farmer-to-farmer and stakeholder collaboration.


As well as highlighting current best practice in soil management, the event will explore other soil testing methods which, for project manager and soil expert Audrey Litterick, haven’t yet proved they are a good financial investment.  


She says: “There are some really exciting new techniques for testing soils, including things like soil food web assessment. There are also established methods for which there is currently little scientific justification, such as Base Cation Saturation Capacity testing (e.g. the Albrecht method), but as yet we simply can’t reliably interpret the results.


“Farmers need tests with clear results which allow them to then make changes to soil management, like more traditional soil sampling. However that isn’t to say farmers shouldn’t try new methods, but that at the moment the main benefit of them is collecting data to help us better understand soil health and fertility, rather than practical changes on farm.”


Audrey will instead be focusing on a more back to basics approach, encouraging farmers to get out into the fields and test their soils themselves, whether through measuring soil respiration, earthworm counts or using the visual soil structure (VESS) test which explains how to simply assess soil by sight.


“I want to see more farmers measuring the health of their soils themselves, as I think that way they will develop a stronger appreciation of what they can do to enhance one of their most important assets” Audrey explains.


The event will also outline some of the options for improving soil health; including a session on compost and digestates, while David Michie, Head of Farming and Land Use at Soil Association Scotland, will describe the potential benefits of green manures.


He says: “Using green manures can be a great way to look after your soil health and structure, but they can also reap many other benefits, from increasing biodiversity, to improving yields and even helping to manage weeds and pests. I’m looking forward to discussing how green manures might help farmers on their own land, and hearing about the results of the GREATSoils programme more broadly.”


The event will be held at Archerfield Walled Garden, Archerfield Estate, Dirleton, EH39 5HQ on Thursday 16 November from 10am until 1.30pm. Click here to book.  


For more information about the GREATsoils programme please visit http://horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/great-soils