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, and more information is included in the Valuing Your Soils booklet.
*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.
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
A report from the Scottish Farm Advisory Service has found that almost half of Scotland's farms could be suffering from low pH levels. A study of 273 soil samples from around the country showed that almost half of the soil samples had a pH below 5.8, one thrid were between 5.8 and 6.2 and only 18 per cent were above pH 6.2. This agrees with recent research with shows overall UK grassland production could benefit fromimproving soil pH status. The full report is available on the Scottish Farm Advsiory Service website.