Soil Structure

Poor soil structure can be a hidden challenge, preventing optimum root penetration into the soil profile, compromising nutrient uptake and hindering drainage. Compaction can be an issue on both grazing and cropping fields.

Current research has highlighted that compaction caused by cattle trampling can lead to a loss of total grass silage dry matter yields by 500 kg/ha; tractor wheeling’s can reduce yields by 200 kg/ha*.

Its worth taking a look at soil structure across the farm and identifying and rectifying any problems.  The Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure (VESS) guide provides a good starting point and can be easily carried out on the farm.

*February 2013. Presented at British Grassland – Profitable and Sustainable Grazing Systems: Moving Forward with Science Conference. Based on Work carried out a Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries-shire.

Soil pH

Poor soil pH makes it harder to maximise yields, irrespective of the amount of fertiliser applied. Although lime can be seen as an expense, soil pH outwith the target range could already be costing your business in terms of:

  • poor crop utilisation of expensive fertilisers
  • restricted crop uptake - grazing ground at a pH of below 5.5 means half of your applied nutrients may be unavailable for uptake by the growing crop
  • yield penalties
  • increased diffuse pollution risks and loss of greenhouse gases from the farm

Recent soil samples taken on 50 farms in Ayrshire identified around 70% of farm soils were below target pH; in Perthshire this reduced to 30% of the area sampled across 20 farms. There is more information in the Valuing your Soils Guide (page 32)