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The importance of soil sampling for maximising forage production


To maximise the quantity and quality of any crop it is important to begin with the soil. It’s important to understand what nutrients are already in the soil as this can help reduce fertiliser costs and improve the nutritional value of the crop.

Soil is often overlooked on how it can impact the health of livestock. Ensuring progressive soil management is linked with the production of a livestock system will achieve significant benefits in disease resistance, productivity and profit.

It is a legal requirement to test soil on cultivated land. Whilst soil sampling it is a good time to review the structure of the soil which can also have an impact on crop growth. It is also an opportunity to look and count worms as this can help evaluate the organic matter levels within the soils.

Compacted soils reduce pore space, meaning water drainage is reduced and this can restrict root extension. Healthy soil has a good balance of pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and by measuring them, an accurate fertiliser application plan can be made so that any purchase is correct by not over applying but also not under applying any nutrients.

Soil sampling

Creating the best conditions

Healthy soils will support crop growth. By targeting the following areas will result in providing the correct conditions for enhanced soil microbial activity and efficient nutrient cycling from soil to plant.

  • Good physical structure
  • Correct chemical an mineral balance
  • Abundant biological activity

Assess your soil

 

What to look for

Importance

Soil temperature

The soil should be ideally be relatively warm to touch.

Warm soil indicates that air is penetrating, allowing plant growth to start earlier in the spring and extend later into the autumn.

Soil moisture

The soil should not be waterlogged or dehydrated.

For efficient transfer of nutrients there must be enough moisture in the soil. Too much and the soil will be anaerobic, too little and there is not enough moisture for the transfer of nutrients.

Soil aroma

Earthy, pleasant smell.

Indication that the soil microbial system is working.

Soil compaction

Open crumb structure with a variety of aggregate size.

Compaction reduces the number of pore spaces in the soil available for air, moisture and roots. Compaction will affect root depth, transfer of nutrients and worm population.

Soil organic matter

All plant organic material should be digested and none left from previous years.

Left plant organic material from previous years indicates that the soil is not cycling efficiently.

Grass root mat

Throughout the soil profile the roots should be dispersed well.

Good soil structure indicator, allowing roots to go down through the soil moisture and nutrient extraction.

Clover root nodules

Multiple pinkish white nodules on the roots.

Clover is fixing nitrogen efficiently.

Soil analysis

There are a wide range of soil analysis available to cover all major and micro nutrients. A standard soil analysis will include checking levels of Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium and pH.

A more in depth broad spectrum analysis will check levels of Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, pH, Sulphur, Sodium, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Molybdenum, Boron and Cation Exchange capacity.

For more information

For more details about soil analysis, improving your homegrown forage or for forage advice, please contact your local account manager or send us an online enquiry:


Contact a Forage Specialist