Soil health is a huge and complex field, making knowing where to begin difficult for those who are just starting out. As part of the Healthy Hectares program, we’ve created this video to help landholders get their foot in the door and start improving the health of their soils.
The first step in restoring you soil is observe it closely. Watching for issues and warning signs will give you a good idea of what some of the issues unique to your land. Keep an eye out for things like erosion, stock damage, bare earth, salt patches and weed species.
Soil health isn’t just about adding the right chemicals and fertilisers to your land. Grazing management, stock choice, rainfall, fence lines, vehicle tracks, pasture species and tree species can all impact the physical, chemical and biological condition of your soils.
Knowing when your soils are more vulnerable to damage and changing your management can also minimise damage to their structure. When soils are soft and muddy after heavy rain, try to minimise vehicle use or stick to a single track. Keeping stock (especially cattle) off soft soils and sensitive areas will also help preserve their structure. Adding carbon to your soils spaces out the particles, allowing higher water retention and more resilience in heavy downpours and dry conditions.
Chemical soil characteristics are best measured with soil testing. when selecting a soil testing lab, make sure that you choose one that is NATA accredited. To maintain consistency and repeatability of results. always use the same lab for subsequent soil tests. Some trace elements such as molybdenum cannot be detected by a regular soil test and require a leaf tissue sample for accurate measurement. It pays to know what the limitations of your soil test are before you begin testing.
Disturbing soil through deep ripping can disrupt the delicate networks of bacteria, fungi and insects that reside beneath the surface. If seeding, use a direct drill if possible to minimise disruption. Minimising the use of pesticides and herbicides will also boost your soil biology.
By understanding the three elements, you can begin monitoring and improving the health and resilience of your soils. Chemicals and fertilisers cost money, and are not the only way to make meaningful changes to your soil’s chemistry.
To learn more about what your soil test results mean, download the Understand your Soil Test Step by Step booklet by Cathy Botta: https://bit.ly/3auiwyl