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Estimates suggest Scotland loses around 920 000 tonnes of soil, with the total cost of soil erosion equating to an estimated £50 million[1]. Being able to reduce and retain soil on farm will bring production, financial and environmental benefits.

Healthy soils are fundamental to agricultural productivity, but also bring wider 'ecosystem services' such as nutrient cycling and carbon storage, sustaining woodlands, water storage and buffering pollutant transport as well as supporting ecosystem biodiversity.

The term soil health refers to a soil’s capacity to function and provide these ecosystem services.   Soil health is monitored through the assessment of key soil physical, chemical and biological properties.

Good soil health is key to achieving target yields alongside contributing to wider farm resilience.  For example, soils with good structure, high organic matter and diverse species of flora and fauna can support nutrient uptake, recycling and retention, leading to improved sustainable soils. Good soil health and resilience can reduce diffuse pollution risk through reduced soil compaction, erosion and nutrient runoff from the soil. It has been estimated that annually.

Gaining an understanding of your soil and soil health status will help you target remedial actions, make better use of nutrients and help to achieve target yields.

  • Soil Health: Soil health refers to how well the soil preforms, for example compaction, crop growth etc.

Soil systems are a matrix of water, air and soil particles (Figure 5). Soil particles clumped together are termed soil aggregates and spaces between soil aggregates are called pores, which allow for the movement of air, water and roots. The arrangement of soil aggregates and pores within the soil matrix governs soil’s bulk density, porosity and water infiltration rate. If soils become compacted, this limits pore space and restricts root movement, affecting growth and potentially preventing access to water and nutrients.

Figure 5 Soil Composition

Soil pH can affect the solubility of a number of essential plant nutrients and trace elements.  If pH is out with optimum range, some trace elements will be unavailable for plant uptake.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have produced a soil health scorecard to allow farmers to monitor their soil health using indicators such as: soil structure; pH; extractable nutrients; earthworm count; and soil organic matter. The scorecard is broken down with supplementary information to guide users though, producing a traffic light system to help management decisions on farm.