Soil: know what you've got
“It’s a bit like the Great British Bakeoff, this,” James Bretherton said as he picked up a handful of soil.
“We’re checking if it looks good, if it smells good, and if it’s got a soggy bottom.”
He was talking to a hall full of farmers at one of the six ‘Soil: know what you’ve got and making it work for you’ events held earlier this year – run by Soil Association Scotland and partners, including Quality Meat Scotland. The sessions took place across Scotland, looking at exactly why understanding our soil is important, how to spot signs of soil that needs attention (with a practical hands-on soil sample session), and how healthy soil can help us all maintain thriving businesses.
James Bretherton says he’s a practically-minded ‘soil enthusiast’, and he spent each of the sessions stressing just how much soil is every farmer’s greatest resource. He said: “There are more organisms in a tablespoon of healthy soil than there are humans on the planet. Soil is a living environment, not a chemistry set; we’ve got to appreciate that to really look after it.”
The events focused on the fact that soil has mineral, structural and biological components, and that issues with any one of these three can cause major issues for you and your farm. James talked about the importance of formally analysing your soil, but also of digging it up and looking at it, smelling it, seeing what’s growing and living in it. Knowing what soil you have and what state it’s in - especially with the full information soil analysis provides - gives you the knowledge you need to make good decisions for your farm. James recommends aiming to test 20% of your land every year, so you get to all of it every 4 – 5 years.
Our soils are under ever-increasing strain and levels of compaction are on the increase across Scotland. But healthy soil can make a difference, affecting things ranging from grass yield, quality and palatability, to uptake of nutrients like phosphorous, and the effectiveness of manure, slurry and fertilisers.
As one farmer said: “It’s not rocket science, is it. We’ve just got to get back to paying attention to what we’ve got and taking care of it, instead of throwing things at it by guesswork.”
The next ‘Soil: know what you’ve got and making it work for you’ event will take place on Westray, Orkney in June. Take a look and book your free place.