Simple Soil Health Measurements
Is my soil healthy? That is a question many growers ask. It is not always an easy question to answer. Some will say a soil is healthy if it produces a good crop, has good drainage, readily breaks down crop residues, has higher organic matter levels and holds water for the crop. Others want specific measures or tests to have a number to indicate the health of their soil.
The three components of soil health are physical, chemical and biological. Researchers use very detailed techniques in the lab and in the field, often to measure a single soil health indicator. These measures are not practical or cost effective for the field. Some labs in Ontario and neighbouring states offer soil health tests. The cost for these is low for simple tests and significantly more for a more complex suite of tests. Many of these tests are hard to interpret as more research in Ontario is needed to relate them to our soils.
You may already be taking some samples from your field that can provide a measure of soil health. Soil fertility tests can indicate the health of a soil for the chemical component. If nutrient levels and pH are adequate for the crops grown in the field then the chemical indicators are good. Soil organic matter level, often included in a soil fertility test, is a reasonable soil biological indicator. Adequate organic matter levels for the soil texture can indicate good soil biological activity. See the organic matter level rating of different textures table in to the Managing for Health Soils chapter of the OMAFRA Agronomy Guide - Publication 811.
There are a number of simple low cost tests that can be done in the field to give an indication of soil health.
1. Earthworm Counts
2. Water Infiltration
3. Soil Compaction
4. Bury Underwear
Another good indicator of a healthy soil is the yield of a corn crop without nitrogen. The healthier the soil the higher the yield will be. Leave a short strip of corn without nitrogen and do a yield check.
For more information on soil health see the Managing for Health Soils chapter of the Agronomy Guide.
New Publications to Increase Soil Health!
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs' (OMAFRA) has developed new soil health publications. The publications provide best management practices to help farmers preserve and conserve soil while improving soil health and crop production. Visit the OMAFRA Soil Health in Ontario web page to learn more about the first twelve titles:
These are just the beginning. OMAFRA is rolling out a total of 21 new publications over the coming year, so check the Soil Health in Ontario web page regularly for new releases.
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300