Understanding soil health for environmental management

Soil health has become a hot topic in recent years – and rightly so. If our soil has the nutrients and organic matter it needs to thrive, production also thrives.

Soil testing takes the guesswork out of nutrient management and allows sound decisions to be made, whether that’s how to optimise the use of fertiliser or other management practices for sustainable production.

Fiona Calvert, Agriculture Technical Support at Hill Labs, says when farmers and growers have the data and knowledge they need, they can make better decisions for the environment.

“Farmers and growers really care about the land they work on, and for close to 40 years now we’ve been working closely with them and their advisors to provide accurate testing that not only measures soil nutrients and quality, but also helps them to understand historical land use and its effects on soil health.”

Fiona says that close relationships with scientists and end users have helped Hill Labs refine their testing practices over the years and to determine measures that are useful to them.

“’Soil health’ is a term used globally and can mean different things to different end users, depending on the challenges they may be facing,” she says.

For agricultural and horticultural systems, soil quality represents a combination of physical properties, such as soil texture; chemical properties, such as pH and mineral nutrient content and biological properties including living biomass and mineralisable N (nitrogen). 

“Soil testing helps build a picture of the soil’s status, and from there, decisions can be made to help reduce erosion and compaction, incorporate precise irrigation and fertiliser use, and make sure the right crop is in the right place, all while protecting the microbiology underneath.”

As sustainable farming and growing has grown in prominence, so too has Hill Labs’ capabilities in agricultural and horticultural soil testing. Current testing can measure nutrient levels and identify any deficiencies or excess, providing a basis on which to assess fertiliser and lime for crops, pasture and turf. Tests are also available to aid the wise use of nitrogen and to measure soil carbon and evaluate microbial activity.

Hill Labs is currently exploring further soil testing options for measuring soil biology, where these have been shown to be useful indicators of soil health.

Farmers and growers are committed to the environmental sustainability of their land, and Hill Labs is right there beside them as a proud long-term partner of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. The Awards are an annual initiative celebrating the sustainable efforts of farmers and growers while showcasing best practice to others.

“The awards are a fantastic way to engage with farmers and growers, while also understanding their work on the land and the challenges they might be facing now and into the future,” says Fiona.

“We’re really supportive of these awards and the ethos behind them, which is about recognising and celebrating farmers and growers as environmental stewards who strive to leave the land in a better state than they found it.”

27 May 2024

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