Blogs provide an excellent opportunity to share information and ideas, discuss management practices and respond to questions from readers. In short – it is a place for a virtual agronomist, like myself to share information on soil health, i.e. what is it, how to measure it and how to manage it and discuss a host of other related topics and ideas.
In science it is often the case that increasing the sample size decreases the variance of the result, meaning large samples produce better estimates of content than do small samples. Soil laboratories use only a few grams of soil per sample for regular nutrient analyses, employing equipment that makes up for soil minutiae with low-level detection capability.
Italy to many, is the birthplace of farming with a soil nomenclature system dating from 500 AD. In the mere distance of Maine to North Carolina they have all four major soil temperature groups – frigid, mesic, thermic and hyperthermic and 4-times the soil unit diversity of the USA.
Interesting and potentially very valuable relationships between CO2 respiration and soil conditions have recently been revealed in a soil monitoring project using the Solvita basal CO2 test. At the Woods End Farm, staff take a soil sample each week and perform in-situ soil respiration (Solvita Basal), without processing the soil, thereby avoiding artifacts.
Soil health testing needs its own set of calibrations and guidelines in order to have its potential fully realized. This has come into focus recently with studies on how soils behave biologically. Normally, when a soil dries out, a sudden addition of rain or irrigation water produces a well-known effect – the “CO2-Burst” – a surge of respiration by microbes springing into action.
Calling it a “health check for your soil” England’s largest independent soil testing firm NRM Laboratories (Berkshire & Norfolk) has introduced UK’s first Soil Health test. The analysis features Solvita as the cornerstone biology test for CO2 evolution combined with a suite of physical and chemical parameters useful to growers.
Farmer interest and innovation in cover cropping is reaching new heights as witnessed by hundreds of farmer attendees at 2 farm events organized by the PA No-Till Alliance in late August. Upgrades and improvements in equipment – many of them designed by farmers – provide almost unsurpassed control in cover cropping and reseeding into no-tilled soils.
Soil CO2 respiration should be center-stage in the emerging Soil Health discussion, according to Brinton who addressed a recent Soil Renaissance gathering in Oklahoma City. He showed early data from the Swedish soil ecologist Lundegårdh who first quantified plant CO2 demand due to photosynthesis and contrasted it with soil CO2 respiration. A biologically active soil was able to cover the plant’s carbon budge
Soil Health aficionados like to say that roots and worms make channels down into the soil – transferring nutrients and carbon between soil layers. What this looks like in reality was made clear at a recent Soil Health field-day in Berwick, PA, sponsored by NRCS and the PA No-till Alliance, with crop consultant Gerard Troisi and soil tester Will Brinton from Woods End Lab, Maine. A soil pit dug in the triticale cov