It's time to check your soil health
Sue Briggs - Soils, Water and Climate Project Officer, DEPI Wangaratta
Spring is the ideal time to monitor your soil's health. A basic soil health check investigates the physical, chemical and biological components of your soil.
Monitoring key indicators such as pH, structure, nutrient levels and biological activity can help assess the health of the soil. The results should be recorded and form a benchmark for comparing soil health across your property and over time.
Physical monitoring is as simple as digging a hole and completing a few quick and easy tests. Biological monitoring can also be completed in the paddock however some of the tests are a little more involved. Alternatively, soil samples can be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Chemical monitoring (soil testing) involves sending a soil sample to a reputable laboratory for analysis. Regular soil testing, at least every three to four years for beef and sheep producers and more frequently for dairy producers, has greater benefit than a one off soil test. It enables farmers to become familiar with their soil and how it responds to stocking rate and fertiliser applications.
To achieve comparable results, there are a number of factors to consider. They include sampling time, location and laboratory selection.
There is no right time to soil test. However, as soil nutrient levels can vary throughout the year, it is best to sample at the same time of the year to be comparable. When you find a time that suits your business stick with it. In spring, the soil temperature and moisture are relatively consistent making it easier to collect the 10cm cores than in summer where the soil is usually dry and hard.
Plan sampling locations before you drive into the paddock. One method is to divide the property into land classes or soil types and sample each area. Another is to sample paddock by paddock. Keep in mind the results are as good as the sampling procedure so use a proper soil corer and take a minimum 30 cores along a designated path. Be sure to avoid gateways, urine and dung patches, stock camps, water troughs, feed out areas and trees. Map the transect line and store with the results so in three years time you can come back and sample along the same path.
Select a laboratory and stick with it. Laboratories can have different analyses for many nutrients and results can be reported in different formats which makes it hard to compare. Select a laboratory with NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accreditation or is ASPAC (Australasian Soil and Plant Analysis Council) certified.
If you would like help in identifying soil types or investigating the three components of your soil, please contact Sue Briggs at DEPI Wangaratta on 0400 884 813. Soil corers are available for landholders to borrow and as part of a soil property plan, can GPS your transect line and print a map for your records.